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Please Don't Quote Me

By Caralee Aschenbrenner


BLUFFVILLE may not have been platted like many other proposed village even though its first settler, Norman French was a surveyor, it did have a post office. Such was a status symbol in that early day.

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In addition to first settler, first house, first birth and death, the first postmaster was always listed. Of course, Norman French was the first postmaster at Bluffville.

Post office merely meant a set of “pigeonholes” attached to the wall or a desk drawer.” Or a spot on the shelf behind the yard goods in the general store. Post offices were often located in a business or store. Patrons brought shopping with them. There would be no home delivery, urban or rural, for many years. Patrons stopped in to inquire if there was a letter for them. Mail could be paid for by the sender or by the receiver. Sometimes the local weekly printed a list of mail waiting at the post office and whether or not postage was due.

The illustration with this article are two copies of letters mailed to Vermont from Bluffville. One has “Paid, 3¢,” the other has a stamp. Letters, early on, were written on a piece of paper which had been folded, usually twice, with the address on one fold. Every minute space was used, sometimes the writer writing at right angle across the page. Size didn’t matter but distance did. Not until paper was made in very light weights were envelopes used, too. One of these letters was sent in 1857, the other in ‘56. The late Dr. Curt Gronner, Morrison, provided these examples years ago.

The Bluffville Post Office opened December 4, 1849 and closed September 2, 1867. Post offices for years moved to wherever the postmaster was located or at his business. No separate buildings housed the facility for years to come.

The second post office opened at Argo February 15, 1851 and closed December 15, 1901, Robert Artt, Postmaster.


But by the twentieth century the name had become Argo Fay. The Chicago-Milwaukee Railroad had constructed a “cut-off” from Ashdale, west a couple miles from Lanark, ‘cross-country to a switching station, Ebner, south of Thomson near the Whiteside County line. It lessened train traffic on the busy, busy, main line and would hasten trains up a steep grade east of Savanna. It was a boon to Argo even if they did have to change their name because there was already an Argo on the line somewhere. Those events have been covered in PDQ Me.

Sandville was the third Post Office to open in York Township. It perfectly described the prevailing soil surrounding it excellent for growing watermelons and potatoes. It opened March 29, 1865 with James Holman as postmaster. If someone has a cancellation from Sandville, they have a rarity because it was open for only about two and a half months until in May, 1865 when it became “Thomson.” George Thomson was an executive on the original Western Union railroad that went north and south from Savanna to points beyond. Several name changes of the rail line occurred. The first train passed through Sandville/Thomson January 12, 1865, the date became the ultimate downfall of Bluffville.

To serve postal patrons a post office, apparently, was placed at a certain distance from another, like schoolhouses in the early day. Within walking distance, presumably Johnson Creek Post Office thus opened on the very east, south side of York Township February 19, 1868. It was two miles north of the Whiteside County line on present day Rt. 78. Homer Homedeu, Postmaster. It closed July 3, 1882 when mail to those patrons was distributed from Fair Haven, then from Ideal also on Rt. 78, that on January 6, 1891 until it, too, closed and the Rural Free Delivery brought mail from Mt. Carroll. Sylvanus Atherton was the Ideal postmaster. In 1955 delivery came there from Thomson.

The order in which the York Township had their mail may seem a minor point now but at the time it showed that progress was being made in “civilizing” what had been wilderness in the youthful days of many of those present day residents, now grandparents or great-grandparents. A trip to the post office once a week or so was a memorable thing. Receiving a letter even more so. Until recent years ago we, too, reveled at a letter, now we get so much unwanted mail, catalogs, sales pamphlets, etc. that it isn’t so desirable. But we still take pride in having a post office and are discouraged at those being closed up altogether or having a cut back in hours. Yes, our pride is damaged.

Although Argo-Argo Fay was up there in the northeast corner of York, apparently, a fairly early settlement, it had been known by a previous title, the “Bailey Settlement” or “Baileyvilles” used when applying for a post office. There already was a Baileyville just northeast of Carroll so Argo was chosen. It is not quite clear if the state legislature gave it that title or not. Read the 1878 county history!

There were numerous large families of the Bailey clan EAST of the bluff. It was not surprising the cluster of homesteads would be called Bailey Settlement.

Monroe Bailey, on the county board, had tirelessly promoted the township he named York to replace “Harlem Precinct” one of five or six township names replaced at the change of county level style of government that occurred in 1850. He finally got his way.

Joseph Cushman who wrote a “sketch” of York Township in 1876 and urged others elsewhere to do the same before the facts were blurred or lost, named other families who arrived from the mid-1830’s up until the 1850’s. He became a Thomson merchant, inventor and manufacturer of the “celebrated” Cushman Wind Mill (shop on the south side of Main). Many of the newcomers are listed here but not in the chronological order that he listed them ... Many of the families came in numbers with their families, a couple generations to add greatly to the Bluffville and Bailey Settlement gatherings. Some of the names were (in no particular order): Tomlinson, Bailey, Balcom, Atherton, Cole, Carpenter, Beebe, Melendy, Holman, Dunn, Dunshee, Green, Kinyon, Carroll, St. Ores, Gaar, Potter, Marble, Phillips, Shoemaker and more. Many of those family names are yet familiar in that area today.

Both sides of the bluff were filling up. Norman French had probably built a log cabin but it was William Dyson who came with Russell Colvin in 1836 who built the first house along the Scenic Bluff Road near French. Emigration continued into the years to come except, Cushman said, for the years 1841-1842 when a Great Drought made settlement difficult, that and there was a lot of sickness. As it was, Bluffville grew along the base of the bluff.

The bluff had become a prominent landmark for all traveling on the trail/highway or the Military Trail west along the Mississippi. It became known far and wide as “Point of Bluff” and travelers of all sorts oriented themselves by it. Not only was the “Point” a landmark but a picnic rendezvous place for locals to enjoy. The ridge was difficult to scale, perhaps, but a horse and buggy, or horse and wagon could carry a crowd. It was pointed out, however, that young people especially gathered at certain spots, they finding it easier to climb!!!

The favorite place to have a tryst, um, meeting, was at the Big Cedar or the Name Tree. Its twisting, multitude of branches spread wide to shade the Sandy ridge on top of Point of Bluff. It was ancient and, fortunately, it cast seeds far and wide so other seedlings grew on the slopes to continue the legacy of the ancient species. But the sentimental feelings people had for the tree actually caued its demise.

Lovers, friends, passers-by carved their names on the tree trunk and such wounds scarred the tree so badly that it died from the attention. Poems were written about it, pictures made and Point of bluff and the Name Tree became a long ago Memory. What did others remember? Next week.


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