Family feud forced post office to move

April 04, 2001 12:00 am
The Mark C. Wood store in Harbor, about 1914, with the post office on its right. ().
The Mark C. Wood store in Harbor, about 1914, with the post office on its right. ().

"The mail's come!" That glad cry is a hallmark of civilization. Nearly everyone wants to keep in touch with the wide-the wide-wide world, and among all forms of non-vocal communication the letter is the most personal, the most wanted.

The following account of the Chetco and the Harbor post offices was compiled a few years ago by the "Save the Harbor Post Office Committee:"

Not until March 3, 1863, was a postmaster appointed for Chetco. He was one of the 1852 pioneers, Augustus F. Miller ... Miller owned all the land on the north bank up to the E.L. Miller ranch, then across to Thompson Road to the ocean and back to the Chetco River. He operated a ferry, a store, hotel, and a fishery on the north bank of the river. During his years as a pioneer, Miller did his share of fighting with the Chetco Indians. Getting the mail to Chetco was a difficult task.

There were no roads, only pack and bridle trails. The overland mail was delivered by horseback; the rider was a contractor who traveled from Gold Beach and Smith River. He forded the river at Ferry Creek, near the present E.L. Miller ranch, often carrying his mail pouch over his head in high water.

Successors to Augustus Miller were short termed postmasters. Henry Simons took the post in December 1869, for seven months. Then Robert Moore, newcomer from Missouri, was postmaster. He lived near the present location of the Victor Anderson property. Moore stayed at the post until January 1871, and later became a county judge. Thomas Van Pelt succeeded him. He was also a settler who came to the valley in 1852. He owned land on the Chetco River.

Two years later, Jan. 2, 1873, Miss Janette "Nettie" Cooley, was appointed the first woman postmaster by the Postmaster General.

She lived with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Miller Cooley, who settled approximately two miles south of the Chetco River in 1860. For some time the quarters of the Chetco post office were in the Cooley home, This property was renovated by Mr. and Mrs. Almo H. Newton in the 1940s.

In 1875 the official appointment went to Miller Cooley. During this time the 75-mile coastal strip, which was settled with less than a thousand residents, had three post offices.

Roads were now being built, even though there were only six wheeled vehicles in Curry County. Still the mail was delivered on horseback and only once a week.

Nettie Cooley's brother, Henry, took over the job of postmaster from his father in 1886. Henry Cooley also held a two-year term and then the job went to Frederick H. Blake, who later was replaced by his brother, Harrison "Harry" G. Blake. He was postmaster until 1905.

During his term the post office was located in his home, which was located in the center of the valley on the site of the old Pedroli residence. Blake, who had served in the state legislature in 1874, was well-known throughout the state.

During the turn of the century a wagon road was built which carried stagecoaches and brought passengers, news-papers, and mail to the settlers. The community of Chetco was scattered, and the Chetco Harbor and Townsite Company wanted the population on the south side of the river to combine into a settlement. So a town was laid out and called Harbor to differentiate it from the scattered community of Chetco. The town flourished. Residents petitioned the federal government for a post office and got it on Nov. 24, 1894. Thus there was a Chetco post office, a mile upriver, and the new Harbor Post Office."

Peter Costello was the first postmaster of Harbor, and also manager of the Collidge store.

Four years later, in 1898, a feud started between the Coolidges and the Van Pelts. The valley was split and loyalties divided. Thus the Harbor Post Office was rapidly moved from the Coolidge store to the hotel, and the new postmaster was James McCutcheon, a neutral. Then Fletcher Gardner took over in 1903.

The Chetco Post Office, now in competition with the Harbor's other office, was moved back to the Cooley residence. Ida Cooley succeeded Blake as postmaster in May 1905. In November, 1906, her brother, James A. Cooley, took over the office until it was discontinued in October, 1910.

At that time the settlement of Chetco was without unity and without a post office. Now the "Boom Town" of Harbor, a thriving community with a post office which served both settlements, was the focal point in the valley. Ernie Stitt received the appointment as postmaster in 1914, and in 1918 Harriet Miller Payne became postmaster. A fourth class station in 1944, it reached third class and in 1955, second class status. In 1958, after 40 years as postmaster, Mrs. Payne retired and the Harbor post office was changed to a rural station of Brookings run by a contractor.

The Harbor Post Office change was made in the interests of economy, but the post office had been a kind of community center and was rather precious to many residents who fought for its retention. A "Save the Harbor Post Office Committee" was formed and some 200 people gathered in the Grange Hall to protest. They won a three-month reprieve, but that was all. Since June 1958, the Harbor Post Office has been a substation of the Brookings office.

More Post Office Notes

The Chetco Post Office was in operation from 1863 until 1910 in various places, and at one time was near the mouth of the Chetco River at the present site of Harbor. Later it was moved southward several miles. When the Harbor Post Office was established in 1894, the name Chetco could not be used because the Chetco office was then servicing the locality near the Winchuck River.

Another post office was established at Ferry, about a mile above the Chetco River mouth, in 1888. Sarah Cooley was the first postmaster. This office was discontinued 10 years later and the business turned over to the Harbor office.

News about the Harbor Post Office was outlined in a Jan. 12, 1895, letter to the editor of the Gold Beach Gazette in Gold Beach, Oregon:

Editor,

"You see by the heading that we have a post office now. This last storm brings no mail, however. The Chetco River was not very high, though the high tides backed the river up, causing the bridges over the creeks to float off. The river was too high to ferry, but small boats could cross.

There was not much drift come down the river. All our mail may be sent to Harbor office now.

(Signed) HARBOR"

A Winchuck Post Office was started in 1914 with Beulah Keiser as post-mistress. It was located in her home up the Winchuck River and discontinued in 1918.

Postmasters and

Appointed Dates

Chetco Post Office:

Augustus F. Miller 1863

Henry Simons 1869

Robert Moore 1870

Thomas Van Pelt 1871

Janette Cooley 1873

Miller Cooley 1875

Henry Cooley 1886

Frederick H. Blake 1888

Harrison G. Blake ?

Ida Cooley 1905

James A. Cooley 1906

The Chetco post office was discontinued in 1910.

Harbor Post Office:

Peter Costello 1894

James McCutcheon 1898

Fletcher Gardner 1903

Ernie Stitt 1914

Harriet Miller Payne 1918

Mrs. Payne served 40 years, until the Harbor Post Office was changed to a rural substation of Brookings in 1958.