John Reily juggled many jobs while first Hamilton postmaster
(Drastic reductions in U. S. Postal service have been proposed to address increased costs, reduced income and changes in personal and business communications. Cuts mentioned include reducing mail delivery from six to five days a week. This is the fourth in a series of columns looking at the early development of postal service in Butler County.)
Contributed by Jim Blount
Mail delivery within what is now Butler County was haphazard until establishment of the first post office in Hamilton. John Reily was appointed Hamilton’s first postmaster Aug. 1, 1804. Reily, who served until he resigned in 1832, had plenty of work because postmaster wasn’t his only job.
The Virginia native -- whose previous experience included participation in establishing Cincinnati and forming the state of Ohio -- had arrived in Hamilton a year earlier at the age of 40. That year, 1803, when Ohio became a state, there were only 14 post offices in the state, most of them in the eastern part or along the Ohio River.
Before Reily’s appointment, Hamilton mail had arrived once a week by a post rider from Cincinnati. It was delivered to Torrence Tavern at the northeast corner of Dayton Street and North Monument Avenue.
It took a post rider at least seven days to make the loop from Cincinnati north through Hamilton, Franklin, Dayton and Urbana, and returning south to Cincinnati via Yellow Springs and Lebanon. Letters collected on the outgoing route were returned to Cincinnati, and, if bound for a location on the Miami Valley circuit, were dispatched from Cincinnati. That meant some pieces passed through their destinations before being delivered there more than a week later.
Hamilton’s first post office (1804-1809) was in a two-story log building on South Monument Avenue between present Court and Ludlow streets. Some local historians have called it "the westernmost post office north of the Ohio River," a questionable claim.
It isn’t known if that first post office had a sign proclaiming its purpose. It should have borne several signs because it was a multi-purpose building. Reily combined 28 years of PO duties with several other responsibilities.
Privately, he was responsible for creating the rival town of Rossville on the west side of the Great Miami River. Rossville’s 132-lot plat was filed March 14, 1804. Reily had surveyed and laid out the town for its proprietors. He also was their agent, selling land in the town and handling payment of taxes and other business chores.
Reily assumed four county offices in 1803 when Butler County was formed. They were clerk of county common pleas courts (for 37 years); clerk of county supreme court (39 years); first county recorder (eight years); and clerk for the county commissioners (16 years) --.overlapping terms totaling 100 years.
In his multiple duties, Reily established the procedures for settling and governing the new county. He did so under a severe handicap -- no money. In 1803, noted an observer, the new county "was destitute of funds, no taxes having, as yet, been levied or collected."
He also helped establish Miami University in Oxford. Reily, who had little formal education, was a trustee for 31 years, 1809-1840. He was president of Miami’s board of trustees from 1813 to 1822 He participated in selecting Oxford as the site for the school, and he fought to keep Miami in Oxford, despite periodic attempts to move it elsewhere.
How did the veteran of the revolution and frontier Indian wars contribute so much over so many years?
"He was uniformly at his post, early and late," said James McBride, a colleague and also a pioneer county leader. "He was well aware of the importance of system and proper arrangement in conducting the business of an office, and reduced his theory to practice with a degree of success which was at once apparent to all who had business transactions with him, or were in the habit of visiting his office."
McBride said of Reily: "In all his engagements he was punctual, strictly honest and liberal."
During his 47-year residency, Butler County grew from a few hundred people in 1803 to 11,150 in 1810, after the first county census, and to 30,789 at Reily's death June 7, 1850. Hamilton’s second postmaster, James B. Thomas, 1832-1851, is said to have started partial mail delivery at least 40 years before it was authorized in Hamilton.
For some of his friends, Thomas carried their letters in his hat. He handed them the pieces when he encountered them, saving them trips to the post office. The formal delivery system began locally in 1887 -- three years after house numbers were assigned in the city.
During his tenure, Thomas was responsible for frequently handling a large shipment of money through Hamilton’s post office. According to Stephen D. Cone, an early historian, a Boston company operated a pork packing plant.
Cone said the plant received money to pay its bills from Boston in currency "every few days in packages of $5,000, and so regular were the mails on arrival they knew exactly when to call for it." This would have preceded the telegraph and telephone. Mail remained the fastest form of communications when Thomas was postmaster.
U. S. Postal Service, 1775-1840
1775 - Benjamin Franklin named first Postmaster General under Continental Congress
1776- Declaration of Independence
1788 - Government ordered long distance mail service over the Appalachians to Pittsburgh on the Ohio River
1789 - U. S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, declared Congress shall have the power "to establish post offices and post roads"
1789 - Samuel Osgood named first Postmaster General under U. S. Constitution
1791- Fort Hamilton completed; eastern mail received by horseback from points in Virginia, using the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap to Danville, Ky., and Cincinnati
1793 - Cincinnati post office established
1794 - Pittsburgh to Cincinnati mail route started on Ohio River
1803 - Ohio became 17th state; Butler County formed
1804 - Hamilton post office established, first in Butler County
1807 - Middletown post office established, second in Butler County
1823 - Navigable waters, including inland rivers, designated as post roads by Congress
1829 - Postmaster General William T. Barry considered member of President Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet
1838 - Railroads designated post routes by Congress (same as post roads)