End of a ‘Litttle era’

Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm


Retirement of Harold Little ends 70-year

association for family with Albany Post Office

Harold Little put the last tray of letters in his vehicle last Wednesday morning, ending a career with the U.S. Postal Servive that has lasted for 28 years. His retirement marks the first time in over 70 years that a Little hasn’t worked in the Albany Post Office.

by: David M. Cross

An era in Clinton County that began 70 years ago when Leonard Little started carrying the mail on Rural Route Two ended on Wednesday, August 31, 2011, when Harold Little pulled into the Albany Post Office lot for the last time in his official capacity of rural mail carrier. No more does a Little carry the mail in Clinton County.

Leonard Little began carrying Route Two about 1941, driving a 1937 Chevrolet and continued to serve as carrier for that route, which included the Shipley and Lee’s Chapel communities (now more easily identified as Wisdom Dock Road and Wolf River Dock Road) into the 1950s until succeeded by his son, Houston Little. Houston carried Route Two for 27 years, with nearly 50 years of working the mail.

Houston’s son, Harold Little, became the Route Two substitute carrier for his father in 1983. Don Grider took over the route in 1988 upon the retirement of Houston Little, and when Grider retired in 1994, Harold became the full-time route carrier, serving until last week.

But that’s not all of the story. Herman Little, son of Leonard, worked as the Route Two substitute for some 25 years, then became full time and carried Route 1, Albany from 1983-1994. (Huron Little, son of Houston, has carried the mail in Louisville for 41 years and is scheduled to retire in December of this year. That may be when the entire Postal Service shuts down, as threatened.)

Route 2, Albany, Kentucky has therefore been much of a family affair for 70 years. Rural Free Delivery (RFD) itself is taken for granted today, but it only came into existence in 1896 and came to Clinton County in 1924. Prior to creation of the rural routes, people had to travel to the post office to pick up their mail–and the county was dotted with post offices every few miles. Small offices, usually located within country stores, such as Shipley, Narvel, Huntersville, and Watagua were the commerce centers of their communities–but it was a bit unhandy to have to travel to the post office to get your mail. Therefore, the RFD system was created by Congress for the convenience of the rural people and it was the major contributing factor to the demise of the rural post offices.

Clinton County’s first rural carrier was George C. Dalton, who in 1924 became the RFD carrier for Route 1, Albany, at a rate of $936.00 per year. By appointment letter dated December 24, 1924, Dalton was instructed to provide yourself a vehicle of such capacity as will enable you to handle all mail that may be so intrusted to you and protect it from adverse weather conditions. Dalton’s horse and buggy (and sometimes just the horse) apparently complied, because he carried Route One for over 20 years. This area covered much of southeastern Clinton County. According to Dalton’s grandson, Bobby Jack Dalton, who worked as a mail carrier for some 35 years himself, including 21 as Route Three carrier, when customers on the route would order large items such as a washtub from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, it would just infuriate his grandfather and he is said to have thrown it down in the yard upon delivery, announcing its arrival in a gruff manner. He didn’t like washtubs.

Clifton York was the next Albany rural carrier, hired in the late 1920s and working on Route Two until the late 1930s when he was replaced by Herschel McKinley. McKinley soon moved to Route Three, which was more familiar territory for him, and that’s when Leonard Little scored high enough to rank in the top three on the qualifying test and got the route, with the help of then United States Senator A.B. (Happy) Chandler. According to Herman Little, his father got the route despite a statement from a local doctor that he was physically incapable of carrying the mail, apparently obtained at the request of one of the other applicants. Back then politics had a lot to do with who worked in the post office, from postmasters on down, and it stayed that way until the creation of the United States Postal Service in 1971. Generally, Democrats were favored when there was a Democratic president, and Republicans had the edge when there was a Republican administration.

One of the rural post offices was Browns Crossroads, and for over 30 years its postmaster was Susie (Mrs. John) Sawyer, who operated the post office out of her store on the Old Burkesville Road. When an RFD route was to be established out of that rural office, the postmaster’s sister, Lillian Collins, scored high on the qualifying test, obtained the route, and began carrying the mail in 1933 with a horse and buggy and later by Jeep until that route, which served 209 customers and included the Wago, Decide, and Ida Communities, was closed out. She then succeeded George Dalton on Route One. Joe Talbott succeeded Mrs. Collins some time in the 1950s and he ultimately retired from the route in the early 1980s.

It is believed that Route Three was created about the time of the closure of the Cumberland City Post Office in 1940. Hershel McKinley and his wife carried this route, and they were succeeded by Wilbur Vitatoe, who obtained the route when his father W.H. (Bill) Vitatoe was Albany postmaster. Upon Wilbur’s retirement in 1974, Jack Dalton took over as full-time Route Three carrier and he held the route until his retirement in 1995. Jack’s son Dewayne Dalton has continued the Dalton tradition of mail carriers, now carrying Route Five.

Some time around 1950, Route Four was created and Lloyd McWhorter was that route’s first carrier, but he soon returned to his clerk’s position at the Albany Post Office and was replaced by Ira Lee (Curly) Dicken, who carried the route until his retirement in 1990. Lloyd’s father-in-law, Otto Cross, had acted as substitute carrier for all three routes, but never served as a full-time carrier. Other substitutes included Randolph Smith (Route 1) and Fred Smith (Route 4.)

Certain other routes in the county out of the Aaron and Alpha Post Offices were HC or Highway Contract routes, which were carried by contract mail carriers. These were previously referred to as Star Routes.

Now the Alpha Post Office, established in Clinton County in 1852, is slated for possible closure. No rural post offices have existed in Clinton County since closure of the Aaron P.O. in 1990. The days of traveling to the post office at places such as Savage (which closed in 1951), Cartwright (1958) or Seminary (1966), to pick up the mail are long gone. We live in an age of instantaneous transmission of information, and the Postal Service loses millions of dollars every month. However, reliable mail service remains a necessity, and the importance of RFD service to rural America can not be understated. But remember–don’t send letters out to Route 2 or Route 4–they say that address won’t work anymore. But in his day, that was good enough for Leonard Little.

Very much thanks to Dorlene McWhorter, Mary Delene Cross, Ruth Smith, W.G. Pierce, Gary Little, and particularly Herman Little and Bobby Jack Dalton for their help on this article.