Leo Ryan Articles

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.