COAST MAIL SERVICE 1890-1961
By Mabel Plaskett
Until 1890 there was no regular mail service on the coast. Up til that time the residents of Pacific Valley and Los Burros got their mail from Jolon, which was the nearest post office. Whoever happened to be coming in brought the mail and quite often weeks went by without any one making the trip.
In 1890 the Gorda post office was established in the Byron Plaskett home with Billy Plaskett as the first postmaster. Others in charge of the post office while it was here were Mayme Plaskett, Lucy Plaskett and Charley Plaskett. In 1908 the office was moved up the Valley to the Mansfield home with Jasper Mansfield as postmaster. The Gorda post office was closed in 1923.
Byron Plaskett had the contract for carrying mail from Gorda to Jolon and back and the trip was made twice a week rain or shine. Mr. Plaskett carried the mail for 17 years with sons Ed and Lawson helping out. In 1908 he was stricken with paralysis and died at Jolon in 1911. The Plaskett boys and George Ames carried the mail to the end of the contract and the next mail carrier was Ed Moore. The mail now came in only once a week. William Shuey became the mail carrier in 1915 and carried it until the Gorda post office closed.
MANY ADVENTURES befell the early mail carriers and on the whole it was an interesting life although often fraught with hardships.
The Plaskett boys tell of swimming the icy rivers in winter and sometimes a pack mule would roll over in the stream .Those were the years when it rained in winter. They started out at day break with from four to 10 horses depending on the amount of freight mail or passengers expected.
During the coast, crossing Willow Creek, the old mail trial led up the mountain to the Lonny Plaskett ranch where the first stop would be made. Here, anyone living on Willow Creek met the mail man if they wanted to go “outside”. Outside being anywhere over the mountain.
Hardly a week passed without at least one passenger. The trail went by the Los Burros Mines, the Melvilles, the Krenkels and many other miners. The Melvilles tell that Byron Plaskett’s schedule was so regular they used to set their watches by the time he passed their place on mail day.
ED PLASKETT tells of packing the Merritts into the mines and of carrying young Mervyn Merritt in when he was only nine months old. This was about 1900. Fred Merritt Sr. and his brother, Warren, had placer claims on Spruce Creek.
After passing the mines the mail trail went by Basket Springs, Round Springs and Sycamore Springs down the mountain to King Camp where extra feed was kept. Sometimes they would leave horses here overnight and in later years they kept a spring wagon here to drive on to Jolon where they spent the night, starting the homeward ride early next morning with mail and passengers if any.
On the way home the mail man left each mail sack at the owners “mail tree” and one mule. “Old Jack” went ahead and stopped at each tree as he came to it. This never failed to amazing the city folk who wouldn’t believe a mule could be so well trained.
Usually the miners met the returning mail as they often sent the necessities of life by the mail carrier and by the time all stops were made it was sundown by the time he got home. Mail days were Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, taking four days out each week.
At Jolon the mail carrier stayed at the Tidball Hotel. Here was a store and post office. Later it was run by Edwin Genung and still later by the Duck family when it was changed to Duck’s store. Romona (Duck) Sutfin still runs the store, moved to a new location and the Jolon post office is still there with Leslie Hall as postmaster.
So MUCH for the early days of the mail train. After many of the coast ranchers sold to Hearst, in 1922 the population dwindled and the Gorda post office closed that year.
Lucia had its own post office since the early 1890’s. It was in the old Dani home with Lucia Dani as postmaster. Later it was moved to the Harlan home with Mrs. Ada Harlan as the first postmaster. Miss Lula Harlan was the next postmaster and continued in charge until Lucia post office closed in 1932. George Harlan carried the mail from Lucia to Jolon from 1923 until 1928 when Fred Harlan took the contract, and carried the mail until the office closed in 1932.
George Harlan’s trip took him to Kirk Creek where the trail left the coast to start up the grade dipped down to southside of Mill Creek to the McKern trail. He left home each Friday, went to Jolon and back to the McKern Place where he spent the night, making the trip home on Saturday.
The miners of Los Burros would get their mail at a designated place on top of the mountain. The Roy and Linwood Mitchells and Kilsdonks had mail bags along the trail and the Gorda folk had their mail left at the Barbree cabin on Kirk Creek.
FRED HARLAN carried the mail from Jolon for a while and then the coast people decided to get their mail at San Simeon as the road was getting closer, so Fred made the trip to San Simeon the last two years.
When Lucia post office closed the people north of Mill Creek got mail from Big Sur. Fred would take out a load of beans, meat, or whatever people had to sell and bring back to mail. He made a weekly trip to Big Sur with a string of pack horses for several years. Meanwhile the people of Gorda and Los Burros continued to get mail at San Simeon. The state highway trucks brought the mail and everyone went to the highway headquarters for mail.
After the highway was completed in 1937, it was not long until a mail route was established between Big Sur and Lucia with a man named Hodges as carrier. After him Colman LeFever delivered the mail for several years until Bob Nearing took the job until 1951 when our present driver, Ed Culver of Pacific Grove, started carrying the mail.
By this time the route came as far south as Gorda as in 1949 the people of that community petitioned to have mail service from Big Sur and Ed is still delivering mail daily except Sunday to all residents between Big Sur and Gorda.
Ed Culver has an interesting history. Born in Pacific Grove, Sept. 29, 1920, he attended the local schools, graduated from Salinas College (now Hartnell). He joined the Air Force and was stationed in Lincoln, Neb., where he met and married Darlene Keith. In 1046 he settled in his home town where they still live. The couple have four children—Jerry, 14; Peggy, 12; Debbie, 8; and Linda, 6.
IN 1949 Ed had a mail route in Carmel Valley and in 1951 he started his present route. Ed is a most important person in the lives of coast residents. Most of us depend on him for groceries and he carries a store of necessary commodities and will fill grocery orders, delivery cleaning, cash checks, run errands, take messages, etc. and remains calm, friendly and unharried.
He was an able helper in Darlene who does most of the shopping, and drives the mail when Ed plays in the dance band as he does every week.
It surprises people to learn that our mail carrier is a noted musician and member of Monterey County Symphony Orchestra, plays the bass viol. Ed has taken an interested in music since early school days when he studied the bass fiddle and he is now rated one of the best.
So goes the story of rural mail delivery in one of the most remote sections of America. Here’s to the one who brings joy and gladness and news of the outside world to dwellers of mountain and coastland—the mail man!
Mabel Sans Plaskett was born in Coralitas near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountain area of California. Her father Edward Robert Sans ran a saw mill near Pacific Valley, along the Nacimiento – Ferguson road to the coast at Highway One. It was there she met Edward Abbott Plaskett, her husband. Mabel wrote about the coast and the pioneers of the 19th and 20th Centuries.