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Reflections with Sammy Way: Sumterville Post Office began in 1801

Posted 8/17/19

This issue of Reflections reviews the history of the postal service in the Sumter community. The paper examines several articles including the writings of Anne King Gregorie concerning the origin of the post office in Sumter.

The research also …

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Reflections with Sammy Way: Sumterville Post Office began in 1801


This issue of Reflections reviews the history of the postal service in the Sumter community. The paper examines several articles including the writings of Anne King Gregorie concerning the origin of the post office in Sumter.

The research also addresses those who helped establish the guidelines and organization of this institution and the various services it came to provide. The majority of additional information, including several photos, were secured from The Sumter Item archives.

An article written by Lois Anne Dollard in 1947 pointed out the exact instance when the Sumter post office was realized. She used a quote attributed to our community's namesake which noted that "Gen. Sumter wishes to have a post office on your route for the accommodation of the people in that neighborhood. He represents that the distance of your ride will not be increased by calling at Mr. Gale's with the mail. I have, therefore, concluded to establish an office at Mr. Gale's which will be designated Sumterville being in the district of that name."

"Thus, the Sumter post office was begun in 1801, according to a letter from the postmaster general at that time to Tyre Jennings, Esq., at Stateburg, as secured from the files of the office of the chief inspector in 1937 by Postmaster J. C. Pate of the Sumter office. An entry in the Postmaster General's letter book for the same day shows that John Gale had been appointed postmaster at Sumterville, S.C."

According to Anne King Gregorie's History of Sumter County, "In 1801, the postage on a single-sheet letter was eight cents for 40 miles or less and increased with the distance up to 25 miles to 500 miles or more. From time to time, the rates were changed. Until 1846 the amount of postage was three cents for distances up to 300 miles and 10 cents for all distances in excess."

The name of the post office was changed to the Sumter Court House on Dec. 24, 1855, and it was while the station was under this name that free delivery in cities came into being under the Abraham Lincoln administration. The name of Sumter was finally used in 1892, and in 1918, the city was declared as having a first-class post office. By 1850, the Sumter District had 20 post offices.

"The Sumterville post office at different times was located in various stores, and in 1849, it was removed from the store of A. White to that of A. J. and P. Moses." In an article written by L. C. Bryan, later reprinted by The Daily Item in 1915, it was noted that "in 1894, Capt. P. P. Gaillard took charge of the office and served for four years as postmaster. At this time, the office was moved from one of the old frame buildings on East Liberty Street to the Masonic Temple on West Liberty Street." At the expiration of his term, Mrs. Emma Whittemore was appointed postmistress, and she also served a four-year term. During her administration, the office was on West Liberty Street, then moved to North Main Street, where the old Rex Movie Theater once stood. However, the post office was later returned to West Liberty Street to its former location in the Masonic Temple.

It was during George Shore's term as postmaster that the post office moved from West Liberty to South Main Street. Construction of the building on the southeast corner of Main and Caldwell Streets was begun in July of 1909, and the structure was to be completed and turned over to the postmaster on Aug. 29, 1910. The building was constructed by George A. Clayton, general contractor and builder located in Atlanta, under government supervision by John M. Geary, superintendent of construction. " The cost of the construction was estimated to be $52,352,00; however, the building was delayed four months due to the shipments of limestone not arriving due to inclement weather."

"The actual cost of constructing the building was $56,197.48, including vaults, boxes and other permanent fixtures attached to the structure, the building site, a lot 115x130 feet, costing $6,024.23, making the total cost $62,221.71, exclusive of furniture and other portable office fixtures." According to R. B. Walters, secretary of the Board of Trade, and H. P. Fulmer, member of Congress from the seventh district, it was decided to enlarge the post office in 1932. The decision to expand the facility was because of the need for increased floor space.

In 1961, it was announced by the Post Office Department that the "selection of property on the west side of North Main Street where the Chamber of Commerce building was situated would become the site of the new post office building for Sumter."

The property at the time, owned by A. D. B. Realty Corp., Tuomey Hospital and Boyle Motor Co., was bordered on the south by the Presbyterian Church and on the north by Boyle Motor Co. Postmaster Loring Lee noted that the site would include land formerly occupied by the old Parson's Boarding house. The new building had an area measuring 16,769 square feet in addition to a platform area and parking space of 33,500 square feet.

The new post office was dedicated in May of 1965 by Deputy Postmaster General Frederick C. Belen. The facility was dedicated to two distinguished legislators, Rep. John J. Riley and Sen. Olin D. Johnston, both deceased.

"Belen said the new building, located on North Main Street across from the First Presbyterian Church, had been carefully laid out to make the most profitable use of its space, and on a large enough scale to meet the anticipated rise in volume for many years. In dedicating the building, Belen asked Sen. Johnston's widow, Mrs. Olin D. Johnston, to deliver to Postmaster Loring Lee a flag once flown above the U.S. Capitol by Sen. Johnston. Lee, in turn, handed it to a color guard. The color guard raised the flag, then lowered it to half-mast for the remainder of the day as a tribute to Sen. Johnston and Rep. Riley."