Horse-and-buggy mail carriers


By Janet Morrison
Did you know?

Did you know that prior to the advent of the automobile the mail was delivered by horse and buggy in Harrisburg? Rural Free Delivery (RFD) began in the United States in 1896, but it is not known when free mail delivery started in Harrisburg.

The “Harrisburg Items” column in The Concord Times newspaper on June 30, 1887, included the following: “The contract for carrying the mail on the White Star Line has been let.” Perhaps that was a route between Harrisburg and another community.

According to Harrisburg’s Footprints on the Sands of Time, researched and written in 1966 by the Stephen Cabarrus Junior Historical Association of Harrisburg School, sometime after the War Between the States, Alexander Newton Harris of Harrisburg carried the mail on horseback between Harrisburg and Monroe, North Carolina. That same source says that a Mr. Bumgarner was thought to have been Harrisburg’s first RFD mail carrier.

James Walter “Jimmy” Taylor, Mack Barbee and Zeb Stafford were the next known mail carriers in Harrisburg. They all delivered the mail by horse and buggy and each one served a different route. 

Mr. Taylor’s route took him all the way to N.C. 27 (Albemarle Road) and back to the Rocky River Community. It is thought that his route was 27 miles long.

There weren’t any bridges over the creeks in the early days of Mr. Taylor’s work as mail carrier. He had to ford Back Creek and Reedy Creek. The ford on Back Creek was a couple of hundred yards to the left of the bridge on Hickory Ridge Road as you travel out of Harrisburg. 

If the creeks rose due to heavy rains during the day, sometimes Mr. Taylor was unable to return home. When that happened, he would stay overnight at one of the farms along his mail route.

Mr. George Govan remembers Mr. Taylor delivering the mail in a horse and buggy when the roads were dirt. On occasion, he would sit at the mail box and wait for Mr. Taylor to come with the mail. He recalls ruts in the road “half a leg deep.” 

One of Mr. Taylor’s grandsons, Ira Lee Taylor, remembers his grandfather having two horses which he always took good care of, feeding them oats and good hay. 
He alternated them from one day to the next to rest them. The one that was home to “rest” was available for working on the farm. 

The younger Mr. Taylor remembers taking the wagon to the grist mill as a young boy. One of his grandfather’s horses, “Old May,” would see a mailbox and start pulling the wagon toward it.  Taylor would have to pull on the reins and try to keep the horse from automatically going to every mailbox.

Mr. Taylor recalls that his grandfather had a brick of coke (a coal residue product) in his buggy to keep his feet warm in the winter and a blanket or lap robe. 

With the advent of the automobile, Mr. Jimmy Taylor bought a Model A Ford in which to deliver the mail. Just learning to drive the car, Taylor roared out of his driveway one day and ended up in the ditch near where Bill Price now lives on Stallings Road. Taylor never drove the car again. After the accident, he would give Vic Harris or one of the other local boys a nickel to drive him somewhere. The car was never used for mail delivery.

Zeb Stafford’s mail route extended into Mecklenburg County. In the “News Items From Harrisburg” column in the Aug. 15, 1907, Evening Tribune newspaper of Concord, there was the following note: “Mr. Zeb Stafford is off on his vacation.  Mr. J.F. Harris is serving in his place.”

The mail route of Mack Barbee, the other Harrisburg mail carrier during “horse and buggy days,” was closer into the village of Harrisburg than Zeb Stafford’s.

Early in the 1900s, William McCleary “Claid” McCachren was a mail handler in Harrisburg. All mail was delivered by passenger train in those days. Mr. McCachren carried sacks of mail from the post office to the depot, met the trains, and loaded the mail on the trains. He also unloaded the mail, meeting three trains everyday and served as a substitute mail carrier.

The next two “Did You Know?” columns will be about Harrisburg’s mail carriers in the age of the automobile.

• Harrisburg’s Footprints on the Sands of Time, by The Stephen Cabarrus Junior Historical Association of Harrisburg School, 1966.
• Mr. George Govan, interview, Sept. 25, 2006
• Ira Lee Taylor, interviews, Feb. 1 and May 27, 2008
• “Harrisburg Items” column, Concord Times newspaper, June 23 and June 30, 1887
• “News Items From Harrisburg” column in The (Concord) Evening Tribune newspaper, Aug. 15, 1907.
• We Have Identified Thousands. Enough! by Adelaide M. and Eugenia W. Lore, 1966.

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