July marked the creation of the first U.S. postal system, established in 1775 by the Second Continental Congress. By 1863, the U.S. Post Service provided free home mail delivery for most cities — but not rural areas.
In the country, people had to walk or ride to the nearest post office to find out whether they had mail and pick it up themselves. In 1892, Congressman James O’Donnell introduced a bill to extend free mail service to rural areas. The bill failed.
First free rural mail routes
Finally, in 1895, Postmaster General William Wilson received funds for an experiment to show whether free rural delivery was practical. He chose as the proving grounds his native Jefferson County, West Virginia. On Oct. 1, 1896, five carriers — Harry Gibson, Frank Young, John Lucas, Keyes Strider and Melvin Strider — were dispatched from Charles Town, Halltown and Uvilla. Other states soon tried their own rural deliveries. Until the Postal Service standardized mail receptacles in 1901, early carriers delivered to an odd assortment of emptied lard pails, cigar boxes and other containers. By 1902, the U.S. Postal Service decreed rural delivery a permanent service.
State’s first woman postal carrier
When one of the state’s original rural carriers Gibson retired in 1919, his route was taken by another pioneer: Vesta Watters Jones. The Charles Town native was the first woman mail carrier in West Virginia and among the first in the nation. Gibson had delivered mail by horseback. Jones covered her route in a Model T Ford.