Notes from the Past

Postal Routes in the United States in 1847

As noted in yesterday's Note from the Past, the cost of postage for mail was determined by the distance it had to travel over the most expeditious post road from one office to the other.  The Post Office included a table of distances in Laws and Regulations for the Government of the Post Office Department published in 1847.  The table noted both the cities on the routes and the distances along the established post roads to aid the postmasters in determining whether the distance involved was greater than 300 miles or less than 300 miles.

The table of distances provides an additional insight into mail handling in the United States in the mid-19th century.  There were three main routes which formed the backbone.  route number 1 was from Washington, D. C., to Augusta, Maine, a distance of 608 miles.  Route number 1 serviced the major cities of the northeast.  Route number 2 was from Washington to Austin, Texas, a distance of 2,121 miles.  It proceeded through the south to the Gulf Coast and then west to newly-annexed Texas.  Route number 3 served the the midwest from Washington, culminating in Jefferson City, Missouri, a distance of 991 miles.

The major routes had additional routes which distributed the mail to areas off the post roads.  The branches from route number 1 were from Annapolis Junction to Annapolis, Maryland (20 miles); Baltimore, Maryland, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (84 miles); Wilmington to Dover Delaware (48 miles); New York to Montpelier, Vermont (331 miles); New York to Hartford, Connecticut (116 miles); and Boston to Concord, Massachusetts (76 miles)./

The branches from route number 2 were from Junction near Hicksford, Virginia, to Columbia South Carolina (331 miles); from Charleston, South Carolina, to Tallahassee, Florida (522 miles); from Gordon to Milledgeville, Georgia (17 miles); and from Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi (298 miles).

Route number 3 had a branch from Brownsville, Pennsylvania, to Cleveland, Ohio (193 miles).  There were additional branches from there to Detroit, Michigan, and to Madison, Wisconsin.  There was a direct route to Detroit (120 miles) and then from Detroit to Madison (436 miles) which was used during the times when there was navigation on the Great Lakes.  During the suspension of navigation on the Great Lakes during the winter, the route was from Cleveland to Detroit via Toledo, Ohio (191 miles).  The route further branched at Toledo to route mail to Madison (452 miles).  Other branches on route 3 included Zanesville, Ohio to Frankfort, Kentucky (245 miles); Columbus, Ohio, to Louisville, Kentucky (252 miles); Terre Haute, Indiana, to Iowa City, Iowa (402 miles).  There also were further branches from Louisville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee (177 miles) and to Little Rock, Arkansas (941 miles).

Posted June 4, 2000

Editor's Note:  Modern philatelists are indebted to Theron Wierenga who republished this volume in 1980.  Italics follow the original.  The mileages may not be comparable to modern intercity mileages because the postroads connected the population centers in between and were not direct routes.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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