Before 1815, the nearest post office for the inhabitants of Bethel and Newry was in Waterford, established there in 1800. Postal service progressed through four stages: once roads were opened—by a rider on horseback, then simple rough riding, no spring, wagons, then stage coaches that carried passengers, packages and regular mail and finally after 1851, railroads. Bethel historian William Lapham points out that mail from Portland to Oxford County was carried by post-riders who made weekly trips. He goes on to say that very little mail was carried early on as there was no state newspapers, stationery was expensive and most people were to busy to write letters. The post rider was a welcomed person who was greeted warmly and was himself a carrier of the most recent news from the outside.
From the 1840’s until 1913 and at different times there were three post offices in Sunday River: first, South Newry, then North Bethel and lastly, Ketchum. In 1852, the Maine Postmaster’s roster included Justus J. Kendall at South Newry. Most post offices were located in the home of the postmaster. Some evidence indicates that Luke Reily was postmaster of South Newry in 1844 (Riley Plantation was named for Luke Reily). Josiah Atherton was postmaster of South Newry in 1856.** North Bethel’s post office was opened in 1862 and discontinued in 1878, reopened in the early 1900’s and probably closed after 1913. *
YOU HAVE MAIL
Ruth Crosby wrote about the North Bethel Post Office in her book, “I Was A Summer Boarder”.
When staying at the Locke Farm on their summer vacation, Ruth knew that just before noon when the mill whistle (Thurston’s Mill) blew, it was time to get the mail. The post office was at the home of Charles Swan at what was known as Swan’s Corner. Here the road from Bethel to Newry Corner turned abruptly and the Sunday River road branched off it.
At the Swan’s house, the mail bag, a large canvas bag with drawstring at the top always hung in the farmhouse sitting room by the Franklin Stove. Anyone who had letters or post cards to mail put them in the bag. Then every morning before the Errol stage arrived a group of boarders from the Locke Farm would walk down to the post office to take the outgoing mail and to bring back any mail for Miss Locke and other boarders. On arrival at the post office we would take our mail in for Mr. Swan to post-mark Abbie Finck usually took charge of the mail group. She would be upset upon finding out that some boarders had taken their mail directly to the Bethel post office. It was important to have as many letters as possible post-marked at North Bethel for the continuation of the North Bethel Post Office. Henry Finck and Dr. Rider used their influence to have the post office re-opened. These gentlemen among others used stayed at the Locke Farm for several months each summer.
The Swans also had a small store in their house and its penny candy counter was a magnet for the kids who were part of the Locke Farm mail party.
Charles Davis operated the Errol stage, a mountain wagon with two seats for passengers and the back seat taken out to make room for mail, parcels and baggage. Davis was the chief mail carrier. His route included stops at North Bethel, Newry Corner, North Newry and Upton. The stage left the Bethel rail station each morning except Sunday after the Portland train had arrived at half past ten. Since the trip to Errol was too long for a round trip in one day, a second stage and driver would leave Errol for Bethel on a schedule that would get the mail and passengers to the Bethel rail station in time for the afternoon train to Portland, about four o’clock.
As soon as the mail had arrived at the North Bethel Post Office, Mr. Swan, who was a mountain of a man called “Little Charles” by Frank Kittredge, would turn everyone out of the post office until he could get the mail sorted.
ON TO KETCHUM
From 1901 to 1913, Riley Plantation had its own post office, the Ketchum Post Office. (There was already a Riley Post Office in the town of Jay.) During the years of the Ketchum Post Office’s operation, Augustus Littlehale was postmaster. The mail carrier serving the Ketchum Post Office would pickup arriving mail at the North Bethel Post Office where it had been delivered by Charles Davis. The mail carriers, Ben Aldrich at first and then Grover Cleveland Gorham, would deliver mail, carry passengers and packages on their trip to the Ketchum Post Office.
Logging may have been the key push for opening the Ketchum Post Office. Martha Fifield Wilkins wrote that “There were, at times, as many as two hundred lumbermen in the various camps. When large lumbering operations ceased, so did the mail service.” (pg 53)
Mary Ellen Locke died in 1913; the Locke Farm closed as a summer boarding house and Bion Swan inherited the farm. It is likely, therefore, that the North Bethel Post Office closed about that time as well.
When the North Bethel Post Office closed, all mail service in Sunday River was mounted from the Bethel Post Office. Mail in and out of Bethel was carried by the Grand Trunk Railroad and individual truckers (Note below) contracted with the post office to carry the mail between the rail depot and the post office.
Mail carriers who had contracted to deliver mail from one post office to another generally delivered mail to homes along their route. After the most recent (1999?) Newry Post Office was opened in Sunday River, Bethel Post Office’s mail carrier delivered a mail bag to the new Newry Post Office and delivered mail to individual family mail boxes up to the L.L. Bean Outward Bound Mountain Center.
In the 1990’s, the Nordic Knoll subdivision, which has 12 lots, was opened about one mile further up the Sunday River Road from the Outward Bound Road. However, mail delivery from Bethel did not go to Nordic Knoll; it stopped at Outward Bound. Nordic Knoll is only a short distance from the Riley/Newry town line. To recap Sunday River postal service: Sunday River had a post office in the middle 19th Century called South Newry, and in the 21st Century, the town has a new post office in Sunday River near the Skiway Road turn. This post office is the only one in the town of Newry —it serves the Sunday River Ski Resort population. The post office in Bethel has been responsible for mail delivery to homes in Sunday River since the North Bethel Post Office closed and Sunday River residents’ mailing address was Bethel, Maine but is now Newry, Maine.
Sylvia Gray was a temporary mail carrier when the Newry Post Office was at Newry Corner (1988). She has added the following description of her job at that time: The Sunday River mail went with another driver out of Bethel. I sorted mail for Mayville Road (Rt 2) and Newry as far as Norm Davis’s place. These were all Bethel addresses. I delivered it also. I took a bag of mail to Hanover and sorted it and delivered it on the way back as far as Newry Corner also left a bag of mail at Newry Corner on my way to Hanover. On the way back I picked up the sorted mail and delivered that up the Bear River Road. The Newry addresses started above Norm's place. I delivered up through Upton right hand side on way up and after Upton took a bag of mail to Errol. Starting in Upton on the left I delivered back down along the Bear River Road. So some folks did not get their mail until the afternoon. I then picked up the mail at Newry corner (outgoing) and took it all back to Bethel. My day was over!!!!!
Note: the term truckers includes hauling freight by horse drawn wagon.
*North Bethel postmasters were George C. Atherton, 1862; Orange C. Frost, 1865; William D. Hastings, 1868; Arvilla Swan, 1876 (page 96, Lapham)
** Josiah Atherton, George Atherton’s father, likely moved to North Bethel. His home is identified there on the 1858 Oxford County map.
Fifield-Littlehale house in Riley: The Ketchum (Riley) Post Office was located here 1901-1913 during the years that Augustus Littlehale was postmaster. Photo was taken by Fred A. Fifield about 1905. Fred Fifield graduated from MIT in 1899 and when he died was Superintendent of Canadian Kodak Co. in Toronto, Canada. Pg 209, SRS.
Ben Aldrich was one of the Star Route mail carriers who drove a two-horse stage from the North Bethel Post Office to the Ketchum Post Office. He delivered mail to houses along the way, took passengers and did errands in Bethel for people along the route. Pg 98 SRS.
Charles Davis’s “Errol stage” photographed on Main Street in Bethel. On that day, the mountain wagon was loaded with passengers and luggage. Largely hidden in this photo one can see that a bicycle has been tied to the back of the wagon. Davis had started his mail contract in 1893.
Newry Post Office in 2009. See photo map below. Mail is delivered here from the Bethel PO but mail delivery along the Sunday River Road is done by the mail carrier from Bethel. This is the first post office building built in Newry.