One hundred years ago, on July 28, 1907, a 28-year-old Clifton resident named John Rush Buckley became the Clifton area's first mail carrier. The town celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first Rural Free Delivery route Saturday with a small affair at the post office, featuring historical memorabilia and guest appearances including the country's first post master general, Benjamin Franklin.
Mayor Tom Peterson noted with pride that the area's first mail carrier was "one of our own," as he kicked off a series of short speeches in the courtyard behind the post office.
The speakers were introduced by Franklin, as portrayed by Clifton Historic Preservation Committee member Don McAndrews, a veteran of the first-person historic interpretation business.
"One hundred years ago today, the first rural carrier left the Clifton Post Office over on Main Street," said Clifton Post Master Pat Tolbert, adding that Buckley had probably been carrying about one letter for each mile of his 28-mile route, which served about 80 homes. By contrast, on Saturday, said Tolbert, he had sent out 13 carriers to deliver mail to about 4,800 homes.
Tolbert credited rural mail routes with starting the information age, and he noted that the circulation of many newspapers rose by 300 percent when they started reaching farmers along rural routes.
"What the Rural Free Delivery did was provide a window to the outside world," said Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), to the small crowd that had gathered in the courtyard.
Tom Sisk, president of the Virginia Rural Letter Carriers Association, spoke of the bond that forms between rural letter carriers and their customers. After running the same route for 25 years, he said, "I could tell you just about every person on my route and their kids' names, and I've watched them grow up," he said.
IN FRONT of the post office, the Historic Preservation Committee sold copies of the second edition of the local history book "Clifton: Brigadoon in Virginia." The first edition has been out of print since 1978, and this was the first day the new edition was available in hardback. It was also the first and only day that the Clifton Post Office used a commemorative cancellation stamp to mark the postage stamps on letters coming through the office as "used." The cancellation stamp, as well as a commemorative envelope that was also being sold by the preservation committee, were designed by Clifton resident Phoebe Peterson to honor Buckley's first day on the mail route.
Buckley, who lived on a farm on Popes Head Road about three miles north of town, was paid 39 cents an hour and provided his own horse and buggy to run the mail route, just as rural letter carriers still provide their own transportation today. Prior to the Rural Free Delivery route, area residents picked up and delivered mail at the post office, which was then located next to the Buckley Building near the railroad tracks.