2003-12-03 / Little Old Canarsie

A History Of Canarsie’s Postal Service

A History Of Canarsie’s Postal Service

A turn-of-the-century view of Rockaway Parkway looking south from Farragut Road.A turn-of-the-century view of Rockaway Parkway looking south from Farragut Road.

On November IIth, 2003, the Canarsie Historical Society dedicated a plaque marking the site of Canarsie’s first freestanding post office. The post office stood at 1412 Rockaway Parkway, near Glenwood Road, in the storefront, which is now occupied by Price Fashions. At the dedication ceremony, the following historical remarks were delivered by Ira M. Kluger, co-president of the society.

Postal service was established in Canarsie on September 29th, 1852. A Mr. Owen L. Jones applied to the United States Postal Service for permission to establish a contract postal station. He thus became Canarsie’s first postmaster. A photocopy of a portion of Owen L. Jones’ application to establish a postal station is in the possession of the Canarsie Historical Society. The service continued until October 11th, 1859. It was reestablished on March 18th, 1863, and continued until April 30th, 1896. In other words, it looks like there was an interruption, during the Civil War, of the postal service in Canarsie.

Canarsie’s early post offices were actually contract stations. They were operated by local merchants under contract with the postal service. Regarding Owen L. Jones, we do not know the nature of the business, which he operated, nor the exact location thereof. All that is known about him is that his establishment was located on the west side of the Main Road (East 92nd Street, somewhere between Conklin Avenue and Skidmore Lane) and that he later served in the Civil War.

Prior to the extension of the free delivery system to Canarsie, the letter carriers were employed directly by the operator of the contract station, not by the postal service. They were paid sporadically, whenever the operator of the contract station received his payment from the postal service. Thus, the carriers expected and usually received a tip of one or two cents when they delivered a letter. Prior to the establishment of a freestanding post office in Canarsie, the carriers would assemble each day in Harms’ Hall (also known as Fireman’s Hall), which stood a few feet from where we now stand (on the site now occupied by the Rite Aid pharmacy). There they would sort the mail on the floor.

There are several amusing anecdotes regarding the early postal service in Canarsie. It was reported by an early carrier, Joel Davis, who was interviewed by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle around 1950, that in order to increase the volume of letters to be delivered, resulting in greater tips, some carriers were known to provide residents’ names and addresses to advertisers (such as a sarsaparilla company). They in turn mailed out advertisements in bulk.

In an article, which appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle during 1879, local postmaster Isaac Skidmore, who operated a contract station in his general store, was severely criticized for operating both a post office and a gin mill out of the same store. It is a known fact that many of Canarsie’s general stores doubled as saloons, and did a brisk business in liquor. in early Canarsie would be incomplete without mention of Dr. William S. Tromer.

Dr.Tromer was a physician in general practice, who had an office on East 92nd Street near Conklin Avenue. He was also employed as the health officer of the Town of Flatlands. In addition, during the 1880s or 1890s, he worked for Martin Morrison, who operated a contract postal station in Canarsie. In this capacity, every morning, Dr. Tromer, with horse and buggy, proceeded to East New York, where he picked up the Canarsie-bound mail. He delivered it to Mr. Morrison’s general store, and then attended to his medical practice.

In 1896, the last independent town in Kings County, Flatlands (which included Canarsie), was annexed to the City of Brooklyn. This made the City of Brooklyn coterminous with Kings County. Thus, on March 4th, 1896, the postmaster general in Washington D.C. issued an order consolidating the independent suburban contract stations in the formerly independent towns with Brooklyn’s main post office. Pursuant to this order, the contract stations were closed effective March 31st, 1896, and the free delivery system was extended to the formerly independent towns as of May 1st, 1896.

According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a room was leased from a Margaret Hodgkiss for the sum of $450.00 per year, and a postal station, then known as Station L, was established in Canarsie. A clerk in charge, who received a salary of $700.00 per year, and a clerk, who received a salary of $500.00 per year, were hired. That postal station may have been located in this storefront, where we now stand. It may have been located elsewhere in Canarsie. After the passage of 107 years, the exact location remains obscure. There is much that we do not know. Further research, which will hopefully clarify the picture, is ongoing. What we do know with certainty is that by 1898, Canarsie’s post office was located in this very storefront, where we now stand.

By 1900, the postal authorities realized that there was insufficient demand to sustain a post office in Canarsie. Thus, it was closed, and a contract station reestablished. The community remained dependent upon contract stations until 1946, when a wooden structure was erected at the intersection of Rockaway Parkway and Seaview Avenue, for use as a post office. (Some of you may remember the Navy recruiting station, which occupied the building after its use as a post office.) In 1953, a new post office was erected at 1450 Rockaway Parkway. (This is now occupied by the Duane Reade pharmacy.) The post office eventually relocated to its present site on Flatlands Avenue.

I would like to thank Ed Gottlieb, for his generosity and cooperation, which made today’s event possible, and for his support of the Canarsie Historical Society. I would also like to thank the Hon. Mark Fertig, who is the executive director of the Rockaway Parkway Merchants Association, and the publishers, editor and staff of the Canarsie Courier for their ongoing support. I would like to thank Charles Dono, Co-President of the Canarsie Historical Society and an outstanding researcher, for his in-depth research on the early post offices of Canarsie. I would like to thank Holly Fuchs, Secretary of the Society of Old Brooklynites for her editorial assistance in preparing these historical remarks.

I would also like to thank two very special people who are no longer with us. However, I am certain that both of them are present today in spirit. They are the late Canarsie historian, John F. Denton, who is responsible for my love of local history, and the late Elsie Oberg, who is responsible for the existence of the Canarsie Historical Society.

Finally, a major thank you to Postmaster Owen L. Jones, who began it all in 1852.

Postmaster Jones, you have not been forgotten. 151 years after you established postal service in Canarsie, we have come together to remember, and to honor you. Despite some interruptions, the service, which you established in 1852, lives on. All is well.

Thank you.

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