Once Upon a Time

Rural post offices vanished in 1800s, too

This is a partial view of Mary Cate's application to establish a post office in 1887. At the top of the application, the original name of Gilmer is crossed out. | Illustration courtesy of the National Archives
Posted: Jun. 14, 2016 9:30 pm Updated: Jun. 14, 2016 9:41 pm

Many early post offices had short lives for various reasons: lack of sufficient revenue, another office close by, a postmaster moving to another locale, and, at least in one case, the marriage of the postmaster.

Nine post offices in Adams County existed less than five years. Mill Creek, the earliest post office in Adams County, was discussed in a Once Upon a Time article Nov. 8, 2015. Four other offices that existed only in the 1830s were described in a Feb. 14, 2016 article: Bear Creek, Ashton, Kingston, and Preston.

Excluding post offices that changed names, a transfer to another county or a re-establishment, an additional four Adams County post offices lasted less than 25 months. These offices were New Paloma, Ono, Ira and Cate.

The New Paloma post office operated from Feb. 20, 1858, until Oct. 20, 1859. The postmaster was James Washburn, a shoemaker.

James Madison Washburn, born about 1815, married Ursula Perilla Barrows on Christmas Day in 1838. In the 1850 census the couple and their four children were living in Rome, Ohio. Sometime after 1853, the family moved to Adams County. In both the 1860 census and the 1870 census, James Washburn was living in Honey Creek Township of Adams County.

Paloma and New Paloma post offices were both in Adams County. The Paloma post office was established in April 1856 and discontinued in August 1857. Six months later in February 1858, the New Paloma post office was established and existed for 18 months until October 1859. The Paloma office was then re-established in May 1860 and lasted for many years.

This sequence of dates and the fact that Washburn was living in the Paloma post office area leads to the conclusion that the New Paloma Post Office served that area when the Paloma office was discontinued.

After 18 months, the New Paloma office closed, and about six months later the Paloma post office again opened. Consequently, the New Paloma post office is thought to have been in Honey Creek Township.

The Ono post office existed for 10 months from September 27, 1860, until July 25, 1861, with Samuel Reece as postmaster.

Reece was born in Pennsylvania. According to the birthplace of his children as listed in census reports, he moved to Illinois between 1840 and 1850.

The 1860 census, enumerated as of June 1, listed Reece living in Keene Township. This was just a few months before the establishment of the Ono post office. An 1872 Atlas of Adams County shows land owned by Reece in the north part of the northwest quarter of Section 27 of Keene Township. This was probably the site of the Ono post office.

The Ira post office lasted only two years during the Civil War. The one and only postmaster was James Lee.

He was born in Cheshire, England, in June 1806 and died in January 1904 in Richland, Mo., in Pulaski County, at age 97. He married Betsy Benson (1814-1889) who was born in New York. Both the 1860 U.S. census and the 1865 Illinois census list James Lee as living in Keene Township. The Ira post office was in Keene Township in the northern part of the county.

The postmaster's compensation at the small post offices was a percentage of the total receipts of that office. Although the calculation varied with several factors, the compensation was generally 30 percent to 40 percent of the receipts of that office. For the period of January through June 1863, the compensation to the postmaster was $2.30, and the receipts to the Post Office Department were $4.49. During July through December 1864, the postmaster's compensation was reported as $1.13. This small amount of income was a major factor in closing the office.

The Cate post office operated for less than a year, from Dec. 30, 1886, to Oct. 26, 1887. This is one of only five post offices in Adams County that incorporated the surname of the first postmaster.

The application to establish this post office shows the location of the proposed office as the southeast quarter of Section 35 of Township 1 South, Range 7 West (Gilmer Township) of Adams County.

The application to establish the post office requested the name of Gilmer. However, a post office named Gilmer already existed in Lake County.

It is unclear whether the Post Office Department selected the name Cate to correspond to the name of the proposed postmaster or if this change occurred via input from the Cate postmaster. In any case, there was a lapse of six months between the initial application and the establishment of the office, which appears to be slow even in those times.

The postmaster was Mary Cate, daughter of Walter and Elizabeth Cate of Gilmer Township. There were several female postmasters in Adams County, including Louisa Jonas, who was appointed postmaster of Quincy on the death of her husband, Abraham Jonas.

However, Mary Cate was the first woman (and only one of two women) appointed as the initial postmaster of an Adams County post office. She was 25 years old when she applied to establish the post office.

The postmaster compensation for the Cate office from Feb. 23, 1887, to June 30, 1887, was $3.63. This was certainty not a thriving post office. The fact that the receipts for the fiscal year started on Feb. 23 seems to indicate that it took almost a month and a half after the establishment of the office before it was operational.

The early demise of this office was not because of the small amount of revenue or the "competition" from neighboring post offices.

Mary Cate married John T. Sims of Burton Township on March 24, 1887. This was approximately nine months after the application to establish the office and less than three months from the official establishment date of the post office.

Jack Hilbing is a retired U.S. Air Force officer. With a Ph.D from Stanford, he has worked with computers in military, industry and academia. He has collected the postal history of Quincy and Adams County for 40 years.


Adams, James N. (compiler), Illinois Place Names, Occasional Publications No. 54, Springfield, Ill.: Illinois State Historical Society, 1968, 373.

Atlas Map of Adams County, Ill., Davenport, Iowa: Andreas, Lyter & Co., 1872, p. 120.

"Eiswerth Family Tree," Ancestry.com, (http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/5701120/person/-805750876/facts accessed Feb. 17, 2016), James Madison Washburn.

Hilbing, Jack, "Infant (Post Office) Mortality: Short-Lived Post Offices of Adams County," Illinois Postal Historian, Vol. 36, No.3 (August 2015), 2-18.

Hilbing, Jack, "Postal History of the Cate (Adams County) Post Office," Illinois Postal Historian, Vol. 32, No. 3 (August 2011), 2-8.

Hilbing, Jack, "Postal History of the Ono (Adams County) Post Office," Illinois Postal Historian, Vol. 36, No. 1 (February 2015), 11-15.

Illinois State Archives, Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900: accessed Feb. 17, 2016, http://www.ilsos.gov/isavital/marriagesrch.jsp (John T. Sims and Mary C/E Cate)

"Illinois State Census, 1865," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCK9-6X1: accessed Feb. 17, 2016), James Lee, Keene, Adams, Illinois; citing p. 154, State Library, Springfield, Ill.; FHL microfilm 972,746.

National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. Appointment of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971, Volume 12B, NARA Microfilm Publications M841, Record Group 38, Washington, D.C. (copy of microfilm held by author)

Standard Atlas of Adams County Illinois, Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle & Co., 1901, 37.

"United States Census, 1850," Ancestry.com: accessed Feb. 17, 2016), Census Place: Rome, Athens, Ohio; Roll: M432_660; Page: 99A; Image: 202, James Washburn.

"United States Census, 1860," Ancestry.com: accessed Feb. 17, 2016), Census Place: Honey Creek, Adams, Illinois; Roll: M653_155; Page: 1060; Image: 716, James Washburn.

"United States Census, 1860," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MX4L-PHR: accessed Feb. 17, 2016), Samuel S Reece.

"United States Census, 1870," Ancestry.com: accessed Feb. 17, 2016), Census Place: Honey Creek, Adams, Illinois; Roll: M593_186; Page: 189A; Image: 388. James Washburn.

"United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M64W-B5F accessed Feb. 17, 2016), Samuel S Reece, Illinois, United States; citing p. 10, family 73, NARA microfilm publication M593.