When Postmen Really Carried The Mail

Last month the Westport Post Office moved to newer, smaller quarters. The old Post Road building seems like the perfect PO — and it seems to have been around forever.

Really, though, it was built “only” in 1935 (as a WPA project, for all you anti-socialists.)

Before that, mail delivery in Westport was a different affair. 86-year-old Elwood Betts, an amateur historian, recalls the life and times of rural mail carrier Harry Brown Fairchild — Elwood’s “Uncle Harry.”

Harry graduated from Staples High School in 1897. There were only 4 others in his senior class.

Harry Brown Fairchild, as a young man.

He inherited a large farm from his father, but he had neither the interest nor training to continue.

In 1901, 21-year-old Harry began his career as a rural mail carrier. For the first 3 years he traveled his 26-mile route in different ways: horse and buggy, bicycle, even walking (in winter).

In 1904 he acquired a car. He was paid a mileage allowance to use it.

His first route had 90 families. Later, it grew to 1,300 customers.

Harry was more than a mail deliverer, Elwood says. He was also a “town crier,” bringing news of the day. And he took grocery orders, delivering food to shut-ins.

He had one of the first telephones in town, and was called upon to summon doctors or call in other emergencies for people with no other means to communicate.

Harry Fairchild, in his Model 10 Buick, 1914.

Harry used his own car to deliver mail through 1942, when he retired. He estimated he covered 318,000 miles, and delivered 5 million letters and packages during his 41-year career.

One of his customers was William S. Hart. The Broadway and silent movie star lived here with his mother and sister.

Harry said that another customer — E.M. Asche — was the 1st artist to make his home here. Others followed, and that (according to Harry) was the start of Westport’s fame as an artists’ colony.

Harry’s hobbies were traveling to New York on Sundays, horse racing, flower shoes and county fairs.

He died on April 17, 1954.

By then, the US Postal Service was using mail trucks. Plenty of Westporters had their own phones. Mailmen did not deliver groceries.

And the downtown post office was already nearly 2 decades old.

Harry Brown Fairchild, distinguished mail carrier.

14 responses to “When Postmen Really Carried The Mail

  1. Great story on Harry Fairchild, Dan. When we moved to Saugatuck from NYC in the early 50s — my mother was an illustrator — our mail carriers were the three Nistico brothers, Lou, Joe and Frank. The brothers delivered mail five days/week, taking the time to become acquainted with all their customers, including the kids, and spent evenings/weekends helping their parents run the original Arrow restaurant at the corner of Franklin St. and Saugatuck Ave. and then the new Arrow on Charles St. They were the town criers of Saugatuck.

  2. Growing up in Glen Rock, New Jersey in the 20’s and 30’s I remember two deliveries per day – first class in the morning followed by second class, etc. in the afternoon.

    The Mail Men wore unfforms and caps and carried leather bags. In summer it could be very hot work and they were pleased to accept a cool drink as they walked their route. “Our” carrier was Mr. Darling. He never seemed to be very happy in his work.

    • I have heard stories that once upon a time in Westport, mail was delivered twice a day. Some people used this (supposedly) as a pre-telephone communication device, sending postcards back and forth to friends around town.

      Growing up in Westport, our mail was delivered by George “Nookie” Powers — one of the greatest athletes in Staples history. He was a wonderful man, beloved by all on his route.

  3. Warren Shapiro

    Great story Dan! We are so lucky to have a man like Elwood Betts around to recall these gems of our town history. I am fortunate to have known Elwood since we moved to town 18 years ago. He is a true gentleman and a “town treasure”.

  4. Bill Baynham, Staples ’39, another terrific Staples athlete and our Saugatuck neighbor, was a Westport mail carrier for 30 years. Bill, a Sportsmen of Westport honoree in the 1980s, died last summer. Yup, mail was indeed delivered twice daily when I was a very young kid and the twice-a-day deliveries were in lieu of universal telephone ownership but continued into the early 50s. We got big Lou Nistico for the first delivery and Joe for the second — didn’t see much of Frank who delivered elsewhere in the neighborhood. I can still envision Lou lugging that huge leather mailbag up Treadwell Avenue in the dead of summer with the neighborhood kids tagging along. Tough job. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for Harry Fairchild to make his deliveries on foot all over town trudging through snowdrifts.

  5. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Thanks for the kind words regarding my father as your postman, Dan. When he began working for the post office in Westport, he used his own car and was paid mileage by the government for using it. He often got stuck in snow in his own car in the winter. And, I also remember getting two mail deliveries, especially around Christmas. Bill Baynham was a classmate of my father’s at Staples, both being members of the class of ’39. And, they were great friends working together at the Westport Post Office.

  6. Nancy, your dad was a town legend when I was still a little kid. Very modest man, though, as was Bill B. I knew nothing about Bill’s athletic prowess until he was honored by the Sportsmen of Westport. I asked my dad, “Why didn’t you ever tell me that Mr. Baynham was a footbal star?” “I did tell you,” my father said, “but you don’t listen!” Bill was such a nice guy. My sister Suzy ’65, a very good athlete in her own right, clobbered a softball over the left field stockade fence, through the Baynham’s kitchen window and almost into Bill’s scrambled eggs. Calm as always he glanced up from his newspaper and yelled through the broken window, “Hey Suzy, nice hit!” To me, your dad and Bill Baynham, along with the Nisticos, Walt Melillo, Bob Jones, Lou Dorsey, Helen Lupton, Paul Lane, Whitey Valiante, irving Pike, Albie Loeffler, John and Lou Santella, Frannie DeLuca and Ginny Parker, to name but a few, were what the Westport of our youth was all about. How fortunate we were!

    • Nancy Powers Conklin

      Yes, Tom, it will never be the same again. My father used to tell us that he could walk down Main Street and everyone who passed by knew him and his parents! That was a long time ago. He could never skip school because he would always run into someone he knew! Westport was so different back then. Hard to accept all the changes over the years!! And, how many students at Staples, during the 1960s, could say that their parents graduated from Staples 30 or so years earlier??? It was rare!

  7. Yes, it was, Nancy, which connects us to Dan’s downtown post. By the 1960s the town had undergone a temendous metamorphisis, from a small coastal farming community spiced by the influx of a few artists, to a post-war suburban town still spiced by artists, writers, actors, producers, TV network execs, etc. but dominated by a steady infusion of advertising Mad Men and their families, the hedge fund managers of their day. Still, Westport in the 1960s was still a lower-case town with small town characteristics remaining. Now it’s WESTPORT, with a cachet that barely existed back then. My old pal the Dude Abides insists that amidst the overkill the old middle class values we recall remain firmly embedded. I haven’t lived in Westport since I graduated from high school but my parents never left and to the end of their lives insisted that today’s trappings of ostentatious wealth were just window dressing, that the old ways remained strong. Who am I to argue with them or the Dude? What do you think your dad would say about the changes the town has undergone?

    • Nancy Powers Conklin

      My father would have been very unhappy. He passed away 5 years ago and was really sad to see what Westport had turned into. When we were growing up it was a middle class town with a few “big” homes (Beachside Ave., Newtown Turnpike among others). But, seeing from his perspective was different than ours. He thought what had happened to Westport in the 60s was bad enough! He always said it was ruined by “New Yorkers.” But, life goes on. My sister and I sold our home that we grew up in, in 2008 and were glad to be done with it. It was bought by a developer and bulldozed down and a McMansion was built in its place. So sad. I live in Fairfield where we raised out two daughters and that town is becoming more and more like Westport every day. We spend winters in Tucson, which is a pretty big city, yet has a small-town feel and atmosphere. I guess you just can’t stop progress.

  8. I love the “New Yorkers” remark! We came out from Manhattan, but after we’d been in Westport for a few years my dad began railing about “the [bleeping] New Yorkers”! Maybe because we lived in Saugatuck, where the older Westport continued for a few more years, my dad setled right into Westport, becoming buddies with guys who’d grown up there, in addition to the newcomers who he rode the train with. My mom did the same with her many activities. They loved Westport. They understood the inevitability of the McMansion era and were sad to see the beginning end of the overtly middle class town where they’d raised their kids. Nancy, I went over to Saugatuck Shores a couple of years ago with Murray Rosenberg, an old pal and Staples classmate, to see the home he grew up in. His house was still there — but every other house from his old neighborhood was gone. What jolt that was!

    • Nancy Powers Conklin

      I know how shocking it is to see what has happened in the town concerning housing! My father bought his lot for $500 and he and my grandfather built the house on Quintard Place in Greens Farms for about $10,000! That was when Greens Farms was considered the “wrong side of the tracks.” And, it was in 1947. I was a bit embarrassed in elementary school because my mother was one of the few who worked back in the 50s. They told me if she didn’t work we wouldn’t have food on the table. My father worked at least three jobs at once, when I was growing up. Besides the mail route, he officiated FCIAC basketball, and worked privately for people he delivered mail to. He’d check their homes when they went on vacation, bringing in the mail, shoveling snow and stuff like that. Both of my parents were very hard working, middle class natives of Westport. That is where I inherited my own work ethic. Life was so different back then and to me, it seemed easier.

  9. It was much closer to the bone back then, for sure, Nancy, for many in Westport. Guys in Saugatuck often had more than one job. Almost all worked with their hands. Some of the moms worked in stores like Greenberg’s, prepared lunch in the Saugatuck School cafeteria, were tellers at Westport Bank & Trust, took in laundry or babysat, not to mention those who were teachers or nurses. No kids were spoiled in Saugatuck. My mother, who was a NYC fashion illustrator for 55 years, was one of very few women regularly taking the train into Grand Central. If memory serves your dad also occasionally officiated FCIAC football games on Saturdays if he was wasn’t carrying mail and umpired evening intramural softball games. A very busy guy.

    • Nancy Powers Conklin

      Tom, my father was buddies with all those men in Saugatuck. He talked about going over to their homes to play football, basketball or baseball in the field by the train station when he was a teenager. Their mothers had homemade spaghetti drying on clothes drying racks! Now I know why my dad loved italian food. He was always eating it at the guys’ homes where it was made from scratch. My father also reffed those football games you mentioned, if he wasn’t working Saturdays. He also umped Babe Ruth Baseball in the summer evenings. He used to pick up hitchhikers when driving down the Post Road. And, most often they were guys I knew from school. He would give them a ride and lecture them about why they should be running instead of hitching a ride. Not TOO embarrassing for me as a teenager! He was a great father just trying to raise his family on his salary. He never had sons so, when my sister and I were as young as 2 he would have us in the back yard with a baseball bat on our shoulder trying to teach us to “watch the ball” so we could make some kind of contact. I was the tomboy/jock in school so, my father did get some satisfaction out of that. You have great memories, Tom. We should be emailing instead of using this forum.