Dorchester (Part 2)

This article by Br. Leo Ryan, CSV, was published in Bulletin No. 239 of the Iowa Postal History Association in the fourth quarter of 2006.

(Continued from last issue)

The fourth postmaster recorded in the United States Postal History archives is Thomas Danaher. He succeeded Eugene Bums on March 21, 1894 and served until January 19, 1898 a period of three years and ten months. He entered upon his appointment during the Administration of President Grover Cleveland and continued only briefly during the Administration of President William McKinley. The Official Register of the United States shows his compensation for 1895 as $111.62 and for 1897 as $121.88. There is no record or memory of how or whether this Thomas Danaher was related to Thomas A. Danaher and his descendents. He is, however, buried in the St. Mary Parish Cemetery in Dorchester.

The Thomas Danaher postmaster tenure, however brief, was the beginning of a subsequent series of Danaher Family postmaster appointments in Dorchester. The appointments which followed might well be characterized as ”The Dorchester Danaher Dynasty”.

Thomas A. Danaher was a Dorchester rural carrier who was promoted to postmaster September 9, 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson and served until his death December 1,1920. He was the son of James and Ann Danaher, the oldest of a family of fifteen and lived his lifetime in the Dorchester area. He married Helen Ellen Schwartzoff who survived him and would succeed him as postmaster. In his obituary it was written:

Tom, as he was familiarly called, was a most genial disposition, always ready to help and accommodate even at this own inconvenience, and had a host of offriends all over the community where he did business. He had been postmaster at Dorchester for the last seven years and has given general satisfaction to all.

His genial greeting and kind treatment ofall will be greatly missed where he has grown and lived all his life. 8

His wife, Helen Ellen Danaher, succeeded him and was appointed postmaster by President Warren G. Harding effective July 27, 1921. She served 8 years before she resigned November 8, 1929 and moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin to live with her daughter. Mrs. Ruth O. Lane was nominated and named Acting Postmaster November 3, 1929 by President Herbert C. Hoover. She was confirmed as Postmaster December 18, 1930 and served six years, until January 5, 1935.

By then Helen Ellen Danaher had returned to Dorchester and was reappointed postmaster. She succeeded Mrs. Lane who had succeeded her. Mrs. Danaher was reappointed Acting Postmaster January 5, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was confirmed and asswned office as Postmaster August 5, 1935. Helen Ellen Danaher, in her second appointment, served 10 years from her acting appointment in January 1945 until her successor was appointed January 11, 1945.

Helen (Schwartzfoff) Danaher had succeeded her husband, Thomas A. Danaher, as postmaster upon his death in 1920. As noted Mrs. Danaher served two terms as postmaster (1921-1929 and 1935-1945). III health prompted her retirement in 1945. Mrs. Danaher died January 26, 1951.

Her obituary noted that she died “At her home in Dorchester where she served as post mistress and had charge of the telephone exchange at her home for many years.”9

Bertrand T. Danaher succeeded his mother. Bertrand T. Danaher was born and raised in Dorchester. As a young man he went to Antigo, Wisconsin. There he met and married Irene Greisinger, daughter ofAnton and Margaret (Steiner) Greisinger of rural Bryant, Wisconsin. In 1939 Bertrand and Irene Danaher returned to Dorchester with the first two of their eventual family of five children. One of the two, a daughter, Jeanette, was later to become a Dorchester postmaster. (1979-2003) Bertrand was employed by Allamakee County road maintenance with contractor Max Teff. Later he opened a local pub called the Knotty Pine Tavern. With the help of his wife, he operated the tavern along with his county maintenance job.

Bertrand T. Danaher was named Acting Postmaster by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 11, 1945 and was confirmed and assumed the office on August 10, 1945. Harry S. Truman became President upon the death of President Roosevelt and was President at the time Bertrand was confirmed by the Senate.

In Fall 1945 the post office was moved to a new location to accommodate the post office and to serve as the family home, necessitated by the Danaher’s five children, and the Knotty Pine Tavern. Bertrand Danaher purchased a former hotel which had been operated by Mike Kelly, an early Dorchester settler. The post office was located at one side of the house, the Knotty Pine on the other. The family lived between and upstairs.

This arrangement prompted an inquiry dated August 27, 1945 addressed to Bertrand T. Danaher, Acting Postmaster (sic) by J.M. Donaldson, First Assistant Postmaster General. Note this inquiry was dated one week after his confirmation by the Senate, hence the erroneous designation “Acting”. The nature of the inquiry suggests some of the local citizens were discontent, perhaps even jealous, over his appointment and the subsequent transfer of the post office and had complained.

The letter reported:

Representations have been made to the Department that the Dorchester post office is being operated by you in connection with a tavern which you own and in which intoxicating drinks are sold.

Your attention is invited to the provisions of Section 433, Paragraph 3 ofthe Postal Laws and Regulations.

Please submit a prompt reply to this Bureau concerning this matter. 10

There is no response to this letter in the Danaher family papers, but the matter was obviously quickly resolved. In Spring 1946 the post office and the tavern exchanged locations. The post office required more space so the tavern and the old vacated post office simply exchanged locations. The new post office space was modified to provide separate entrances for the public and for arriving mail. The family residence was located both between the post office and the tavern and upstairs, an arrangement which apparently satisfied government regulations for both separation and distance.

Bertrand T. Danaher served six years as postmaster (1945 -1951). He died suddenly at his home on February 7, 1951.11

In the brief interim between the death of Bertrand T. Danaher on February 7, 1951 and the appointment of his widow, Irene, as Postmaster in October 1951 there was an Acting Postmaster who, in fact, evidently did not accept the appointment as Postmaster.

Patrick L. Blake, a Dorchester area farmer, was named Acting Postmaster April 10, 1951. He served very briefly. The reason for the brevity of his tenure seems to have been related to the specific requirements of an appointment, i.e. the postmaster was responsible for providing the place of the post office, the light, heat and supporting mail structures. Blake apparently was not fully aware of these requirements nor was he able to meet the requirements. Remember that the post office was still located at that time in the home of Bertrand T. Danaher. The mail continued to come to the Danaher post office. Patrick Blake eventually discontinued coming to the post office and resigned his role as Acting Postmaster.12

Mrs. Danaher wrote in her “History of the Dorchester Post Office” that “Patrick Blake was appointed acting postmaster but resigned in two months” He assumed charge April 10, 1951, began as Acting Postmaster April 19, 1951 and by her account “resigned in two months”. She continues saying “I then assumed the responsibility of the office while the department looked for someone to take the job. No one seemed interested in the work so I took the exam and received my commission in December 1951.”13

Mrs. Danaher was nominated October 30, 1951, received her letter of appointment dated November 2, 1951, received her commission and assumed charge December 11, 1951.

On January 23, 1952 Mrs. Danaher married Nathan Kumpf. 14 Her new name by marriage was officially changed in the records of the U.S. Postal Service to Mrs. Irene P. Kumpf. As noted earlier, Mrs. Kumpf was originally from Antigo, Wisconsin, and was a rural school teacher in Langlade County, Wisconsin before marrying Bertrand Danaher and moving in 1939 to Dorchester.

Together Mr. and Mrs. Kumpf operated the Pine View Campgrounds in Dorchester. She served as Postmaster from 1951 to 1977. She was officially notified by letter from J.M. Donaldson; Postmaster General dated November 2, 1951 of her “appointment as Postmaster at the above-named fourth class office”.15

The letter further advised her that she was “without authority to enter upon your new duties until your commission has been issued. This will be done when you have had the enclosed bond and oath office properly executed and returned to the Assistant Postmaster General, Division of Postmasters.” The bond and oath were executed promptly, especially since Mrs. Kumpf had been handling post office matters between the end ofPatrick Blake tenure and her nomination. l6 The “official” date recorded in the U.S. Postal Service Archives for her appointment is October 30, 1951.

Irene P . (Danaher)· Kumpf served as postmaster at Dorchester for twenty six years (1951 to 1977). She was active in the National League of Postmasters and, as noted at the outset of this article, she was a recognized authority on the history of Dorchester.

Mrs. Kumpf retired effective October 5, 1977. During her years as Postmaster she spoke on occasion to the Allamakee County Historical Society on “The Postal History of Allamakee County”17 and “The History of the Dorchester Post Office”.18 She died at age 91 on September 8, 2002.19

Upon the retirement of Postmaster Kumpf, Craig A. Spilde, then a clerk in the Decorah, Winneshiek County, Iowa, post office was appointed the interim Officer-in-Charge at Dorchester. He served Dorchester between October 6, 1977 and February 2, 1978. Today Craig A. Spilde is postmaster at Decorah, Iowa.

Mrs. Kumpf’s daughter, Jeanette Marie Danaher, served as a part-time postal employee during the brief tenure of Officer-in-Charge Spilde. Mrs. Kumpf consulted with Charles J. Murphy, MSC Manager/ Postmaster at Dubuque, Iowa about the future of the Dorchester post office, especially since the post office was still in her home.

Jeanette Danaher seemed the logical candidate. However since her mother’s appointment the positions of Officer-in-Charge and Postmaster were governed by Civil Service. In an interview with now retired Postmaster Jeanette Danaher, she told this story of her appointment.
“Charlie told me to take the exam and to find a second person to take the exam with me and for me to be sure to score high.” In fact, the other person scored higher than me, because she had additional points added to her score because of veterans’ preference. Fortunately she did not want the appointment, so I was appointed.”20

Jeanette Danaher was appointed Officer-in-Charge February 2, 1978 and was confirmed and assumed office as Postmaster June 16, 1979.

Jeanette Danaher was granddaughter of Postmaster Thomas A. Danaher
(1914-1921). She was the granddaughter of Helen A. Danaher who served as Postmaster (1921 -1929) and (1951 -1977). Jeanette was the daughter of Bertrand T. Danaher who served as Postmaster (1945 -1951). She was the daughter of Mrs. Irene P. (Danaher) Kumph who served as Postmaster (1951-1977).

At the time of her appointment Jeanette was the third generation of the Danaher family to serve the people of Dorchester, Iowa as postmaster. The Danaher family (her grandparents and parents) at the time of her appointment had previously served 48 years as Dorchester postmasters.

Jeanette Danaher served one year as Officer-in-Charge (1978 -1979) and as Postmaster from June 16, 1979 until she retired May 30,2003. Her 25 years of service fell one year short of her mother’s 26 years, a family record. Jeanette Danaher added another quarter century of service to her paternal grandparents and parents 56 years of service, making a record of 81 years of Danaher family postal service to the community of Dorchester, Iowa. That length of service by one family is a record in the postal service in Iowa and quite possibly in the United States.

Jeanette Danaher may have represented a small rural post office but she exercised leadership in both the National League of Postmasters of the United States and most recently as President of the Retiree Iowa Postmasters. (2004 -2005)

Steve Bahnsen and Darrel Brandt contributed an article “Old Iowa Post Offices Without Postmasters” to the April-May-June 2005 Iowa Postal History Society Bulletin. Their report “was made up listing nearly three dozen offices without a Postmaster now or so small they may never get another one”.21 Dorchester was among the post offices listed. They offered comments about each community on their list.

About Dorchester they wrote: “The PO was in the former PM home”.22 The Post Office today is still in the former Danaher family home. It was once the local Dorchester hotel called Kelly Hotel which was owned by Matt Kelly from 1902 onward. The Danaher’s purchased the property from his estate in 1945. It was the post office all during the 57 years that Bertrand T. Danaher and Irene (Danaher) Kumph and Jeanette M. Danaher served as postmasters (1945 -2003). The post office remains in the same house today. The post office is separated from the residence with its own public entrance and delivery entrance and the tavern no longer exists in the facility.

Their further comment, “I believe this is a part-time office now”23 is correct. Diane Johnson of Dorchester has been the current Officer-in-Charge (O-in-C) since May 30,2003. The hours are 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. Decorah, Winneshiek County, is the Mail Processing Center.

Rural post offices such as Dorchester depend on their rural mail carriers to distribute the mail address to their patrons. No biography of the Dorchester post office would be complete without acknowledging the contribution of these men to the history of the post office.

Here we rely on Mrs. Irene P. Danaher. In 1975 she wrote:

At one time there were 3 rural routes out of Dorchester with
Tom Danaher, Joe Danaher and Adolph Schwartzhoff as carriers.

The star route was from New Albin. Later on Emmett Kelly,
Henry G. Teff and Leonard Beardmore were carriers.

With Emmett Kelly’s death, the routes were consolidated into 2 routes. The star route came from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Leonard Beardmore retired in 1966.

Joe Schulte was the only carrier. He retired in 1976. Medin Nelson is now the only carrier with (a route of) 112 miles. The star route is from Decorah.24

Leonard Beardmore deserves special recognition as the quintessential rural mail carrier; a prototype of early rural route carriers. Leonard Beardmore began service as a Dorchester rural carrier on July 17, 1922. Helen Ellen Danaher had just completed the first year of her first term (1921 -1929) as postmaster. The post office at that time was in the rear of the local bank. Leonard Beardmore retired December 30, 1966 after over 44 years as the Dorchester rural letter carrier. Mrs. Irene P. (Danaher) Kumpf was the postmaster at the time of his retirement.

His 44 years paralleled much of the Danaher Dynasty. He served during the tenure of Mrs. Helen Ellen Danaher (1921-1929), Mrs. Ruth Lane (1929 -1935), Mrs. Helen Ellen Danaher (1935 -1945), Bertrand T. Danaher (1945 -1951), Mrs. Irene P. (Danaher) Kumpf (1951 -1977).

His initial 1922 route covered 26.24 miles north and northwest of Dorchester, the most rugged terrain in Allamakee County, to places like Bee and Highland and Quandahl. Quandahl had a post office first from July 24, 1877 until August 31, 1877, and reopened September 18, 1877 until April 30, 1906.

In an interview in 1994, when he was 94 years of age, he recalled the three modes of travel used on his route. “The mode varied with the seasons. Cars (Model T. Ford) were used in summer; a team of horses and buggy sometimes, and in deep winter, a sled pulled by horses. I kept three horses and they alternated, working two days and getting a day off.”25

In early post office history, the postmaster, in addition to providing the space, light and heat for the post office, also had to have a cat to keep mice away from the mail. Leonard Beardmore had to carry “A sharp axe to use to kill snakes, and it came in handy to chop up trees blown down on the road during storms.”26 Rattlesnakes were common· especially in the valley between Quandahl and Dorchester and horses were afraid of snakes.

Beardmore regaled the Waukon Standard reporter of winters “when it was 42 degrees below zero and icicles would form on the horses’ nostrils and about every four miles I’d have to jump down and break them off.”27

He spoke of parcel post deliveries of heavy catalogs, incubators, and even 50 pound harnesses and “in the spring baby chicks arrived by the hundreds, some from as far away as Missouri. Some arrived in excellent condition and some suffered ‘casualties’ which caused a rather offensive odor.” He mentioned that in many of those years carriers delivered mail on Christmas Day. He reminisced that with those Christmas deliveries, he would be on the receiving end not of mail but of gifts from “The folks on my route who were like family. Marvelous folks.”28

That era of rural mail carriers has disappeared, with four wheel drive vehicles operating on plowed roads instead of horses pulling sleds just as the era of family succession in the office of postmaster has given way to civil service.

There are no longer any rural routes from Dorchester. Mail comes to Dorchester from Decorah via Waukon, Lansing, Waterville, and New Albin to Dorchester. Rural routes formerly served from Dorchester are now served by Waukon (Allamakee County) and Decorah (Winneshiek County).

Today Dorchester is one of seven existing Allamakee County post offices. Dorchester is the smallest. Waterville, also in Waterloo Township, is the next smallest. The other five are Harpers Ferry, Lansing, New Albin, Postville and Waukon.

The future of the Dorchester Post Office may be in question in this age of mergers and consolidations. Whatever the future, the Dorchester Post Office has had an interesting history spanning more than a century and half, including a 149 year postal history enriched by the 81 years of postal service of the “Dorchester Danaher Dynasty”, a unique family contribution to the postal history of Allamakee County.


8 “Thomas A. Danaher, Postmaster at Dorchester Dies Suddenly at Home Last Saturday”, Waukon Republican and Standard, Vol. 53, No. 47, December 8, 1920, p. 1.
9 “Mrs. Danaher, 78, Dies Dorchester”, Waukon Republic and Standard, Vol. 84, No.5, January 20, 1951, p. 1. The official designation is always “postmaster” regardless ofgender, but local tradition in most Allamakee County post offices was to refer to women in the position as “postmistress”.
10 Letter. J.M. Donaldson, First Assistant, to Bertrand T. Danaher, August 27, 1945. The original letter was provided the author by Jeanette Danaher. 11 “Dorchester Post Master Dies at Home Wednesday”, Waukon Democrat, Vol. 73, No.6, February 8, 1951, p. 1.
12 Interview, Jeanette Danaher, May 12,2006. Patrick L. Blake, 40, was killing in a tragic farm mishap September 24, 1963. He was the father of 12. “Dorchester Man Killed in Farm Mishap Tuesday”, The Waukon Democrat, Vol. 84, No. 38, September 26, 1963, p. 1.
13 Irene P. Danaher, Manuscript, “History of the Dorchester Post Office”, prepared for presentation, Allamakee County Historical Society, September 22, 1975, p. 4.
14 Waukon Democrat. Vol. 74, No.5, January 31, 1952, p. 6.
15 Letter, J .M. Donaldson, Postmaster General, to Mrs. Irene P. Danaher, November 2, 1951. Postmaster General J.M. Donaldson is the same J.M. Donaldson, who when First Assistant, wrote her husband Bertrand about ”the representation made to the Department” concerning the proximity of the post office to the family owned tavern.
16 lbid.
17 Irene P. Danaher, Manuscript, Untitled but describing Early Allamakee County Post Offices, 4 pp.
18 Irene P. Danaher, “History of the Dorchester Post Office”, Presentation, Allamakee County Historical Society, September 25, 1975. Also “Dorchester Postmasters”.
19 Waukon Standard, Vol. 134, No. 37, September 11,2002, p. 5.
20 Interview, Jeanette Danaher, May 12,2006.
21 Steve Bahnsen and Darrel Brandt “Old Iowa Post Offices Without Postmasters”, Iowa Postal History Society Bulletin, Vol. 233, April-May-June 2005, p. 4.
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid.
24 Irene P. Danaher, op. cit., p. 5.
25 “Things Were Much Tougher for Rural Mail Carriers 70 Years Ago”, Waukon Standard, Vol. 126, No.7, February 16, 1994, p. 1.
26 Ibid. p.13.
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.


Dorchester, Part One

This article by Br. Leo Ryan, CSV, was published in Bulletin No. 238 of the Iowa Postal History Association in the third quarter of 2006.

Dorchester, Iowa is located in Section 14 of Waterloo Township, the northwestern most township in Allamakee County. Waterloo Township contains an area smaller than any other Allamakee County township, except Fairfield on the Mississippi. Waterloo Township consists of30 full sections and a narrow strip to the north of only six sections south of the Minnesota state line. Waterloo Township was organized from Union City by an order of the Allamakee County Court, March 3, 1856.
Ellery M. Hancock in his history of Allamakee County notes that “The earliest settlement seems to have been made in the Northeast corner, in 1851, by Mrs. Jas. Robinson and her sons, on Portland Prairie.”(1) Hancock also wrote that “In the northern part of the (Union City) Township, G.W. Carver was among the earliest arrivals, moving on what is called Portland Prairie in May 1852, and securing a large claim.(2)

In 1852 the township population was 157 persons. In 1882 the population of Dorchester was 101. Dorchester has remained unincorporated all these years. The National Census does not record the population of unincorporated communities. The 2000 census records the Waterloo Township population at 322. The zip code for Dorchester is 52140. In 2006 that zip code served 594 persons. Diane Johnson, the present Dorchester Clerk-in-Charge, estimates the 2006 town population at 30 residents.

Dale Ahern writing in The Cedar Rapids Gazette rhapsodizes as following over Dorchester:

As northeast Iowa’s dramatic color pageant kindles bonfires of red and orange among the maple-clad hills here, venturesome
tourists leave the beaten path to seek out more secluded displays.

Here in “Peaceful Valley” -a narrow cut in the steep bluffs along the meandering course of Waterloo Creek -nestles the picturesque old village of Dorchester.3

Two Ohio natives from Mercer County, Ohio, Edmund and Harvey Bell homesteaded government land in the area of the present town of Dorchester in June 1853. They erected a gristmill, a store, a blacksmith shop, wagon shop and sawmill over time. However, Dorchester was not platted until November 27, 1873. Originally the present Dorchester was the site of Haines’ Mill, owned by S.H. and Elise T. Haines, and was simply identified as Haines’ Mill. This mill was important to the growth of the village since settlers in the Portland Prairie area could come here rather than go to Lansing or Bellow’s Mill at French Creek.

As the village grew it was called Waterloo because of nearby Waterloo Creek. Even today Waterloo Creek is one of the best trout streams in Iowa. When the post office was established in 1857 there was already a Waterloo post office in Black Hawk County, so it was necessary to agree on another name for this developing community.

A number of early settlers including the Haines family came from Dorchester, Massachusetts, so the town and post office became Dorchester. The post office was established and Thomas C. Smith was appointed the first postmaster May 21, 1857. There was a mail route from Brownsville, Minnesota to Dorchester, Iowa. Among early families in addition to the Smiths and Haines were Charles Lanenback, William Schwartz, August Schultz and William Rechold. Other early families were Robinson, Kemble, Roof, Peeper, Hartley, Cavanaugh and Matt Kelly.

Dr. Thomas C. Smith came to Dorchester from Buena Vista, Iowa in 1856. He was born in Center County, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1827. He moved west to Illinois to Stephenson Co. (1848) and to Jo Daviess Co. (1850). At Elizabeth, Illinois he clerked in a general store. October 22, 1852 he married Martha J. Tart of Missouri. In 1854 he moved to Buena Vista where he also clerked in a general store. In 1856 he came to Dorchester and was employed as a clerk by G. W. Hayes who operated the Dorchester General Store. In May 1857, T.C. Smith became the postmaster. In Fall 1857 he fonned a partnership with J.M. Tart, brother of his wife Martha. Together they acquired the Hayes General Store which they then operated as Smith and Tart. They were said in 1882 to have carried a stock of three to four thousand dollars. They remained partners until 1872, when Dr. T. C. Smith became the sole proprietor.

There is no record of where Thomas C. Smith acquired the title “Dr”. However, in the section of Allamakee County Biographies under Dorchester in W.E. Alexander’s History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties Iowa he is listed as “Dr. T. C. Smith, postmaster and dealer in general merchandise and drugs.” (4) A “dealer in drugs” being in 1856 the description closest to a present day pharmacist, it would be easy to conjecture that the “Dr.” title was a courtesy or compliment conferred by the community because of his knowledge of medicine. The first post office was located in the Smith and Tart General Store. The store remained until 1965. At present the building is home of the Dorchester Supper Club.

Dr. T. C. Smith was appointed postmaster by President Franklin Pierce. He served as Dorchester postmaster for 26 years. (May 21, 1857 – May 27, 1883). The following chart indicates his compensation as Postmaster.

Year Postmaster Compensation Net to Govt
1859 T.C. Smith 23.57 17.83
1861 T.C. Smith 44.07 34.74
1863 T.C. Smith 61.86 57.05
1865 T.C. Smith 79.46 121.41
1867 T.C. Smith 90.00 141.53
1869 T.C. Smith 120.00 84.34
1871 T.C. Smith 100.00
1873 T.C. Smith 73.00
1875 T.C. Smith 65.21
1877 T.C. Smith 58.76
1879 T.C. Smith 58.88
1881 T.C. Smith 58.49
1883 T.C. Smith 87.52

He also served as County Supervisor and various Waterloo Township offices. Dr. Smith retired to Villard, Minnesota where he died December 30, 1905 at age 78.

Lewis Coppersmith, son-in-law of Dr. Smith, became the second postmaster May 28, 1883. He was appointed by President Chester A. Arthur and served eleven years until January 1, 1894. The Coppersmith family operated the Coppersmith General Store until 1945, when Leroy Coppersmith, grandson of the founder and first postmaster, sold the store to Ray Schwartzhoff.

Postmaster Compensation, Dorchester, Iowa
Lewis Coppersmith
First Appointment 1883-1894
(As listed in the biennial Official Register of the United States for the years indicated.)

Year Compensation
1885 108.37
1887 103.17
1889 103.86
1891 113.89
1893 153.54

A legend developed around the Coppersmith store. Lewis Coppersmith built a two-story native limestone building as his store. From the time the store was built circa 1884 until it was sold in 1945 the family never changed the appearance ofthe building either inside or out. This merchandising philosophy deserves mention.

Burr F. Griswold, writing in the LaCrosse Tribune described the Coppersmith approach as follows:

Dorchester is about 10 miles from its nearest railroad at Spring Grove. This isolation Coppersmith believed to be in his favor. He carried a complete line of groceries, equal to that of many surrounding towns. Patent medicines, small hardware items, notions and dry goods were still to be found in the store in the early 1940’s.

Coppersmith opened his place of business at 6:30 a.m. and kept it opened until 9 p.m. or later every day ofthe week. Hours were shorter on Sunday, but it was the busiest day ofthe week. Farmers would go to church and afterward stop at the store to stock up for the week.(5)

Another local historian, Mrs. Irene (Nathan) Kumpf, whom you’ll meet later as Dorchester postmaster (October 30, 1951-October 5, 1977), told Dale Ahern this story:

From the time the store was built until it was sold in 1945 by the last Coppersmith to run it, the Coppersmiths did not alter the interior or exterior in any way. They had firm convictions about that.

It was their theory they wouldn’t do any more business in a new building with new equipment. Further, they reasoned, ifthey spent money for improvements, part ofthe cost would have to be passed on to the customers in higher prices.

“Give the customer what he wants at the lowest possible price,” the Coppersmiths believed, “and the country store will maintain its place in the economy ofthe community.”(6)

Roy Coppersmith was the last Coppersmith to own and operate the general store. Mrs. Kumpf in her unpublished notes on Dorchester wrote that “Roy Coppersmith who helped many folks in the area with credit and other services. He went to California to retire and said he had many thousands of dollars on the books when he left and (which) he never collected.”(7)

The Coppersmith General Store served as the local post office for three postmasters from 1883 until 1914. Lewis Coopersmith himself served as postmaster (1883-1894) and then his wife, Nora Coopersmith, succeeded him as postmaster (January 20, 1898 -July 04, 1906). Mrs. Coppersmith was appointed by President William McKinley. Lewis Coopersmith resumed the position as postmaster from his wife and served a second term (July 5, 1906 -September 9, 1914). The second Lewis Coppersmith appointment came in the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Lewis Coppersmith
Second Appointment 1906-1914
(As listed in the biennial Official Register of the United States for the years indicated.)

Year Compensation
1907 319.00
1909 398.00
1911 320.00

After 1911, the biennial listing in The Official Register of the United States no longer listed postmaster compensation.

Little is recorded about Nora Coppersmith except that she succeeded her husband as the fifth postmaster in January 20, 1898. The Official Register ofthe United States of the years indicated shows her compensation as follows:

Postmaster Compensation, Dorchester, Iowa
Nora Coppersmith, 1898-1906
(As listed in the biennial Official Register of the United States for the years indicated.)

Year Compensation
1899 170.70
1901 189.79
1903 206.80
1905 210.04

Between her husband, Lewis, first years as postmaster (1883-1894) and his second appointment July 5, 1906 until September 8, 1914, the United States Postal Service Archives list two intervening postmasters. The third postmaster to follow Dr. T. C. Smith and his son-in-law, Lewis Coppersmith was Eugene Burns. Bums served as postmaster for 2 months and 5 days from January 16, 1894 until March 21, 1894. This appointment would have been in the Presidency of Grover Cleveland. This brief tenure apparently involved no postmaster compensation. Nothing has been located to further identify Postmaster Burns. The Burns family was not among the pioneer family names in the Dorchester area, nor is Eugene Burns among the historical biographies in the Alexander County History (1882), nor the Hancock County History (1913).

1) Ellery M. Hancock, Past and Present Allamakee County, Iowa, Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1913, Vol. I, p. 307.
2) Ibid., p. 304.
3) Dale Ahem “Dorchester -Peaceful Valley Off Beaten Path”, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 17, 1975, Sec. B, p.l; 20B.
4) W. E. Alexander, History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties Iowa, Sioux City, Iowa: Western Publishing Company, 1882, p. 539.
5) Burr F. Griswold, “Dorchester, Iowa, Homestead by Brothers From Ohio In 1853”, LaCrosse Tribune, October (N.d.) 1969, p. 11.
6) Dale Ahern, op cit., p. 20.
7) Mrs. Irene P. Kumpf, “History of Dorchester” An undated one page memoir provided the author by her daughter, Jeanette Danaher. As will be noted later, Mrs. Irene P. Kumph (nee Danaher) was the Dorchester Postmaster 1951-1977. Jeanette Danaher was Officer-in-Charge 1978-1979 and Postmaster 1979-2003.

Capoli: The Village History Forgot

This article by Br. Leo Ryan, CSV, was published in Bulletin No. 233 of the Iowa Postal History Association in the third quarter of 2005.

Before the United States became a country (July 4, 1776) and before Iowa was a territory (February 6, 1838) or a state (December 28, 1846) and long before Allamakee County was established (January 15, 1849) Capoli existed. Capoli (CAP-oh-li) was the name given to an important riverboat and explorer landmark along the Mississippi River. Capoli designates a unique, geologically dramatic, two-mile angled bluff rising 420 feet above the Mississippi, just below present day Lansing, Iowa.

Capoli village and post office took their name from this neighboring bluff. Capoli was settled on a small tract of land on the south side of Paint Creek at the point where the Creek empties into the Mississippi.

Capoli was a small, once promising briefly important but now a village lost in county history. The Capoli post office was established February 16, 1852, four and one half months before the village was formally surveyed and platted on June 30, 1852.

Capoli Bluff exists today as a permanently protected 170-acre strip of bluff line known as “The Buckmaster Conservation Easement”. The Capoli Bluff Easement represents a voluntary land protection agreement between the owners, Raleigh and JoEllyn (“Joey”) Buckmaster, and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The Buckmaster Easement keeps the land in private ownership while restricting uses like construction or grazing that could damage its natural resources.

Cathy Engstrom, Communication Director, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation wrote the following about Capoli Bluffs in Iowa Natural Heritage: “Prehistoric cultures thought this place was sacred and left archeological traces of their presence. Early white explorers like Major (Stephen H.) Long, noted its landmark bluffs in their journals and drawings.” Major Long, U.S. Topographical Engineer wrote in 1817 “Just above this … is Garlic Cape (Cap a’l’ ale which has been yankcerized into Capoli) remarkable from the singularity of its appearance.” (Engstrom, Cathy, “Agreement Protects Bluffs, History” Iowa Natural Heritage, Winter 2005, p. 4.)

Allamakee County historian, E.M. Hancock, wrote “It (The village Columbus) was often called Capoli, from the name of the bluff at the base of which it lay, which appears in the narratives of early explorers as ‘Cap-a-l’ail’ in Schoolcraft, or as ‘Cape a’l’ale Sauvage’ as in Beltrami.” (Hancock, E.M. The Past and Present of Allamakee County Iowa: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement. Chicago: The S. J. Publishing Company, 1913, p. 267.)

The Buckmaster Easement “protects the most sensitive natural areas (which) include native prairie, scenic woodland and other distinct natural environments. (It) is one of the longest, single ownership, protected bluffs along the Mississippi between the Quad Cities and the Twin Cities” The ancient Capoli bluffs site “provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including timber rattlesnakes, falcons, eagles and many species of migratory birds. (Unsigned article, “Two Miles of Mississippi River Bluffs Protected by Conservation Agreement”, The Tapestry Magazine, Vol. IV, No.2, February 2005, p. 28.)

Capoli village enjoyed its moments of greatest importance in 1851 the year before it was even surveyed and platted. The citizens of newly organized Capoli were ambitious for their village. They entered the First Allamakee County Seat Election in April 1851 proposing that Capoli be chosen as the seat of county government.

In that First County Seat Election (April 1851) Capoli competed with Vailsville (now Harper’s Ferry) and “Smith’s Place” (Reuben Smith’s Mill in Post Township). In that election none of the villages received a majority vote.

A second election was immediately organized for May 1, 1851. Vailsville withdrew. Capoli won by a small majority (said to be 14 votes). Thus, Capoli became the First County Seat of Allamakee County. The Capoli post office was established February 16, 1852. Lyman W. Low was the first of four postmasters.

A spirit of rivalry soon arose between citizens of Capoli and citizens of near-by Lansing, two miles north also on the Mississippi. E.M. Hancock describes the “jealously on the part of Lansing… toward her next door neighbor, (which) induced her to attempt to deprive (Capoli) of her honors and the advantages accompanying them.” Hancock continues: “Proprietors [of the (Capoli) boat landing] and their friends were too powerful to warrant a direct issue, so Lansing resorted to a strategy and urged the propriety of a relocation of the county seat at the geographical center of the county.” (p. 132)

On December 4, 1852 a group of citizens met at Ezra Reid’s farm (Ludlow Township) and drafted a petition to the Iowa General Assembly “to have another point designated as the county seat.” In January 1853 the Legislature accepted the petition and appointed a three-man commission to determine the location.

Capoli was the county seat so the Commissioners, Clement C. Coffin (Delaware County), John S. Lewis (Clayton County) and Dennis A. Mahoney (Dubuque County) met first in Capoli.

Since Sec. 3 of the Legislative Act, specified locating “the County Seat as near the geographical center”, the Commissioners naturally began their search away from the Mississippi River towns of Capoli, Johnsport, and of course, Lansing itself. The petition and the subsequent decision of the Commissioners was to have an immediate consequence for Capoli and contributed to its decline. The effect for Lansing came in later years when Lansing coveted and aggressively sought the County Seat for Lansing itself. Central location and availability of spring water were primary provisions of the Act. The commissioners rejected Makee Ridge and Union Prairie for lack of adequate spring water.

The Commissioners recommended the George Shattuck farm with multiple bubbling springs. The proposed town site was immediately named Waukon. The Commissioners requested Mr. (Rev.) John Hanley, Jr. of Lansing to christen the spot. The “proposed town site” was called Waukon after a Winnebago Chief, John Waukon, friend of Rev. Hanley.

A Third County Seat Election was called Monday, April 4, 1853 to ratify (or reject) the decision of the Commissioners. Voters ratified the Waukon decision over Capoli by 245 votes. Capoli immediately challenged the vote in the first term of the District Court to be held in Waukon (June 1853). The Waukon vote was confirmed. On August 23, 1853, the Waukon post office was established. Scott Shattuck, son of George Shattuck, was appointed the first postmaster.

Capoli lost the County Seat to Waukon, but Waukon’s hold was tenuous. It took eight County Seat elections between 1853-1869 and a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court (June 15, 1867) to finally confirm Waukon as the County Seat.

Meanwhile, Capoli citizens were active to protect their interest. In early 1853, a motion prepared by Ben M. Samuels, Esq., appealed on behalf of the proprietors of Capoli, to adjourn the District Court in Capoli. The First District Court in Allamakee County had been held in Capoli in 1852.

The entire petition is too lengthy to quote here but briefly it argued that relocation of the County Seat was unconstitutional (i.e. 10th Article U.S. Constitution -“No state shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.”) Proprietors of Capoli had deeded two acres (The minimum required by the Legislative Act of 1851) and thereby had “A contract with the county”. Also, Capoli had “A substantial legal interest in the county seat”. The 1851 Legislation provided that “The point receiving the largest number of votes shall be and remain the permanent seat of justice of said Allamakee County”. The only other condition being that within ten days after the election the location must make and execute “a satisfactory and sufficient deed for at least two acres of land…”. Capoli had done so.

The Court overruled the motion. The Court ruled that Capoli had, in law, acquired no interest in the matters and that no contract existed. Further, (still quoting the Lansing Intelligencer), “The Legislature did not by that word (permanent) intend to make the act, immutably durable -that even if the Legislature had so intended it was an excess of Legislation and consequently void.” (Hancock p.134)

The Fifth County Seat Election (April 4, 1859) became a contest between Waukon and Lansing. Miffed (and threatened) by Lansing’s aggressiveness, a committee of Waukon civic leaders was organized “to select an eligible point on the Mississippi other than Lansing through which Waukon might transact her shipping business.” Capoli and Johnsport (another Allamakee County “Ghost Town”) were considered.

he Committee concluded, “There was no one point to which they could in good faith pledge their support.” (Hancock, p. 134) Waukon won this election by 420 votes.

On December 3, 1860 a new petition was presented in County Court for the relocation of the County Seat at “The Point”, a location between Lansing and Capoli. Old foes were now friends. “The Point” was a location on the North shore of Paint Creek. Known locally as North Capoli, it was never recognized as a distinct town. North Capoli abutted the southern, but an unincorporated section of Lansing. To bring the County Seat to “The Point” appeared to accommodate the hopes of the citizens of both Lansing and Capoli.

Shrewd businessmen, Elias Topliff and J.M. Rose as “Trustees of the Columbus Land Company No.1” platted North Capoli April 16, 1860. Topliff and Jones (sic), Alex McGregor and others of McGregor’s Landing appear to have been the originators of this village site and landing. (W.E. Alexander, History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties Iowa, Sioux City, Iowa: Western Publishing Company, 1882, p. 397.)

The Court ordered a Sixth County Seat Election for April 8, 1861. “The Point” received 1,257 votes; Waukon received 1,231. “The Point” was chosen the new County Seat by 26 votes. The Court House records and furniture “were immediately transferred to that place”. (Hancock, p. 136)

Waukon citizens were stunned. They immediately petitioned the Board of Supervisors for another election. The Board accepted their petition (Oct. 14, 1861) for another election in Apri11862. Again “The Point” (North Capoli and South Lansing prevailed by 22 votes. “The Point” received 1,332 votes against 1,310 votes for Waukon). These two elections proved in hindsight to have been the historic zenith of Capoli, albeit North Capoli/South Lansing as a village.

An Eighth contest was approved by the Board of Supervisors in June 1864 to be held concurrent with the General Election, November 8, 1864. For the third time the election was extremely close: “The Point” 1,205 votes; Waukon, 1,136 or “The Point” by 69 votes. But this election was to spell the end of the real County Seat contests.

The vote was complicated by an irregularity. When the Board of Supervisors met to canvas the November 8 vote, the votes cast by citizens of Franklin Township were still unreported. The Board completed the canvas without the Franklin Township vote.

Waukon immediately challenged the decision. “The Point” called for a change of venue to Delaware County. The Delaware County District Court ordered the Board of Supervisors to include the Franklin Township votes. That decision added 23 votes. Waukon was now the victor with 1,228 votes over 1,205 votes for “The Point”.

The proponents of “The Point” (by this time mostly Lansing interests) appealed the Delaware District County Court decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Supreme Court accepted the petition but did not decide the case until June 15, 1867. The Iowa Supreme Court confirmed Waukon as the County Seat of Allamakee County.

Again the Court House records and furniture were moved September 3-6 from “The Point” to Waukon. Waukon has remained the County Seat ever since.

The waiting period for the Iowa Supreme Court decision (1864-1867) contributed to the demise of Capoli. The existence of a post office was one measure of the importance and vitality of a community. Capoli had so declined in importance and postal revenue that on June 30, 1865, the government discontinued the Capoli post office.

The postal history of Capoli parallels the political uncertainties and apparently the economic demise of this once promising village. Norman E. Erickson, our fellow Iowa Postal History Society (IPHS) colleague, can be credited with prompting me to research Capoli and to write this article. He first wrote me from his Apache Junction, Arizona winter residence after reading the Iowa Natural Heritage article about the Buckmaster Conservation Easement of Capoli.

Norman raised the question whether I had ever seen a cover with the Capoli postmark. I had not. The Lloyd Clark Allamakee County Collection did not include a Capoli cover. Our Iowa Postal Historical Society (IPHS) Bulletin editor, [Dr. Bill Dahl]] remarked that neither had he ever seen a Capoli cover. Perhaps some other IPHS members have a Capoli cover in their collection.

Capoli has an interesting postal history. Guy Reed Ramsey in Postmarked Iowa (Crete, Nebraska: J-B Publishing Company, 1976) lists Capoli among the discontinued Allamakee County Post Offices. His entry reads: “Capoli, two miles southeast of Lansing on the Mississippi river. (SW Sec. 33, Lansing Twp 100N R6W) established February 16, 1852. Lyman W. Low; discontinued July 30, 1856” (p. 10)

However, The Official Register of the United States records Capoli postmaster appointments, compensation, and net proceeds through June 30, 1865. (Cf. The Official Registers of the United States 1852-1853 through 1863-1865.)

The Ramsey date of “1856” is probably a typing transposition of 1865. Likewise his “July” should also have been “June”.

During a visit to the U.S. Postal Service Archives, Washington, D.C., Historian Megaera Ausman directed me to the bi-annual The Official Register of the United States in the archives of the Postal Service. By consulting The Official Register for the seven¬ year period from 1852-1853, through 1863-1865, I was able to reconstruct some history of the Capoli post office.

The table which follows identifies the years of operation, the Postmaster, his compensation and the net proceeds to the U.S. Government. The postmaster at establishment, Lyman W. Low, served only one term. Orin S. Conkey was postmaster for six years, during the period of greatest political turmoil. John H. Tierney served two terms. Postal volume increased slightly during the period 1861-1863. M. Harmon served one term and was the postmaster at the time of discontinuance, June 30, 1865.

The period of the Capoli post office included three County Seat Elections. The Sixth County Seat Election of April 3, 1861 and the Seventh County Seat Election of April 1862 both favored ‘The Point”. This site was the accommodation reached by Capoli, North Capoli and the southernmost section of Lansing. Pressure to name the “The Point” was an initiative dominated by Lansing citizens. Lansing was growing in importance while the importance of Capoli was rapidly declining.

By the time of the Eighth County Seat Election (November 14, 1864) Capoli was no longer a viable village. M. Harmon had the dubious distinction of being postmaster when the post office was discontinued June 30, 1865.

A philatelic note indirectly related might be inserted here. Earlier in connection with the development of North Capoli, we earlier cited historian W.E. Alexander. He wrote that “Alex McGregor and others of McGregor’s Landing, we believe, were the original locators of this village site and landing (p. 398). James S. Leonardo discusses McGregor’s Landing in his monograph on The Introduction of Adhesive Postage Stamps in Iowa 1845-1853. (Iowa Postal History Society Monograph #1, 1996) Leonardo notes “McGregor’s Landing, and Farmersburgh are the only two Iowa post offices with known carry-in usage of both the 1847 and 1851 issues during the period covered by this study.” (p.98)

The cover he illustrates from McGregor’s Landing (January 1, 1852) includes a letter datelined “Ly Brand” (Allamakee County) and written by Jacob Ly Brand. Later, May 12, 1852 there was a post office at Lybrand, five miles northwest of Postville. Lybrand was renamed Myron, April 21, 1868 and the post office was discontinued February 11, 1895.

After the Capoli post office closed, Capoli seems to have disappeared in the history of Allamakee County. In W.E. Alexander’s History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties Iowa (1882) the village where the Paint Creek enters the Mississippi is described as Columbus but with an aside: “It is sometimes called Capoli”. (p. 398) Alexander describes our Capoli, as “A few little old buildings, out of repair, comprise all that remains of its original glory.” (p. 397)

Perhaps the influence of “The Trustees of the Columbus Landing Company #1” simply caused the area to be known as Columbus. There was never a post office Columbus nor a post office at North Capoli. Lansing had become the dominant Allamakee County Mississippi River town.

The other Allamakee County historian, E.M. Hancock borrowed extensively, often without attribution, from Alexander. Somewhere between 1865 and 1882, Capoli became Columbus for these two historians.

Throughout the Hancock history as far back as the First and Second County Seat Elections (April and May 1851) Hancock continuously refers to Capoli as Columbus. E.M. Hancock was writing his Allamakee County history over a 30-year period. He contributed the early chapters to the Alexander volume (1882). His own Allamakee County history was published in 1913. Clearly, over time Columbus not Capoli had become the locally accepted designation of the area at the mouth of Paint Creek. How and when did this change of name take place?

Recently, I consulted the current archivist of the Allamakee County Historical Society, Ada Marie (Mrs. Leslie) Kerndt about the Capoli/Columbus name change. She had no records except what appears in W.E. Alexander and E.M. Hancock.

The mystery of the disappearance of Capoli and the renaming of the area Columbus requires another cycle of research. However, we do now know the history of the Capoli post office. We face another mystery about whether there are any Capoli covers in existence. And, if so, where can they be found?

Despite these political and philatelic mysteries, the archeological and geological wonder known as Capoli Bluffs remains as the Buckmaster Conservation Easement. The village, the first seat of Allamakee County government, and the post office may have disappeared, but the spirit of Capoli, the Capoli Bluffs and Capoli as a riverboat landmark survives to this day.

You can learn more about the Buckmaster Eastment here. The Buckmaster family’s website is here: The cabin at the top of Capoli bluff is now a short-term rental.