"You've Got Snail Mail" - The Early History of Postal Service in Miller Beach, Indiana

     Scattered through histories of Miller Beach and Northwest Indiana are references to the Miller post office and Miller postmasters. This article, using U.S. Post Office records and Gary City Directories, complies the information into one place. It also includes a section on street names which were changed sometime between 1922 and 1923.
      The first five years of the 1920s were an exciting time in the newly annexed town of Miller: Marquette Park was built, telephone service was established, Gay Mill Gardens was built and operating at full tilt, and the population was rapidly expanding onto new streets north and east of "old town" Miller.


Locations:

Before 1865 Miller residents probably had to fetch their mail, or post a letter, at Hobart or Lake Station, Hobart getting a postmaster in 1847 and Lake Station in 1852. (Footnote: Ancestry.com. U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971, Original Data: Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971. NARA Microfilm Publication, M841, 145 rolls. Records of the Post Office Department, Record Group Number 28. )

All that was changed by an enterprising William O. Enos who was paid $198.00 (Footnote: Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census. Official Register of the United States, Containing a List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service. Digitized books (77 volumes). Online at Ancestry.com to 1913 for postal service. ) as the first postmaster of Miller's Station. The 1865 Post Office Contract signed by W.O. Enos, locates the office 1½ miles north of the Calumet River (the Little Calumet), and 3 miles north of Willow Creek. On the same postal route, which is not numbered in 1865, is the office at Coffee creek, 11 ½ miles east, and Ainsworth, 18 miles west. (Footnote: This is either a mistake or name change. In 1863 there was no postmaster for Ainsworth which is due south about 8 miles. There was a postmaster at Brunswick, about 18 miles southwest. ) The nearest office off the route is Lake Station, 6 miles south. (Footnote: Using the “measure distance” feature on Google maps this places the location of the Miller Post office right about at the intersection of, today, Miller Ave and Lake Street. ) The rail carrier is not identified on the contract: the Baltimore and Ohio did not come through Miller until 1874 so it must have been the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. There is no reason to suppose it moved from that location.

Unfortunately the location map what was to have accompanied the contract did not survive, but it would have not shown a very detailed location judging from the one that was filed in 1909.

1865 Miller's Station Post Office contract

This picture of the post office was printed in the Gary Post-Tribune in 1949 along with a caption identifying the people and its location as "about 100 feet northwest of the present railroad station at Lake and Miller Ave.” By my reckoning that would place it a little west of where Miller Pizza Station’s kitchen is today. Pictured left to right are: George Barden and Glenn Harris, town attorneys at that time, Floyd Olson, a grocery deliverer, Miss Emma North, and Edward Klopf, town marshal. (Footnote: "Church Observes 75th Anniversary," Gary Post-Tribune, 29 October 1949. Emma North, who married William Carroll in 1911, was still a resident of Miller in 1949. She was no doubt the source of that information in the article about the anniversary of Bethel Lutheran of which she was a member. )

The picture of the post office has "First Post Office in Lake County, Miller, Indiana" written on it. It is likely splitting hairs, but it may well have been the first structure built as a post office.

In 1909 the location of the post office moved. “Not long ago a postal inspector came to Miller and took a six by eight terra cotta hut for a hen coop. But he found that it was Miller’s federal building and when he referred to it as a “hen coop” he was nearly lynched by the Miller Commercial club. However, the inspector made a report to Washington and the postal affairs are now handled in a good size store room”. (Footnote: "Awakening Comes to Miller," The Times, Hammond, Indiana, July 1, 1910, page 11. )

Indeed, the report made postmaster Emma North jump, for on December 9, 1909 she filed a location report with the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General (Miller was a fourth class post office) that indicated that it was “for new site as moved 500 ft., N.E.” If the initial location is correct that would put the “good size store room” about where the parking lot of the library is today, or over on Hancock a bit south of the current postal station. The sketch map that was included with the report puts the location between the B & O tracks and the LS & MS tracks, which would have been moved north by then, and it shows a depot on those tracks. I can only speculate that the LS&MS was still the mail carrier and that would change soon. (Footnote: A check with the Smithsonian's historians at the National Postal Museum revealed that there was likely no way of knowing. Postal routes changed a lot and there is not a master chart. )

Local legend maintains the post office was in a house on East Sixth Place in Miller, and there is no reason to suppose that it was not used on occasion that way during the “North era” from 1901 to 1919. In 1910 John North, his daughters, including Emma, lived on Center Street, now E. 6th Place. He remained there until his death in 1944, living with his daughter and her husband William Carroll.

In 1926 the Times reported that “In the hope of obtaining direct mail service through the Gary post office department, Miller residents are petitioning for the abolishment of the Miller post office which has been in existence since 1869 (sic).” (Footnote: The Lake County Times (Hammond Times), June 14, 1926, page 5. ) Miller Station was then a sub-station from 1927 on. It stayed in the block between Miller Ave and 6th Place until World War Two, in Minnie Todd’s confectionery at 641 Lake Street for a decade between 1927 and 1937 before moving back to 617 Lake Street, Stillson’s grocery. By 1945 it had moved north and across the street to 436 Lake Street and then into a new home, a new building at 419 Lake Street. (Footnote: If you are old enough you may remember this building as the home of Luigi's Pizza. It was also used as a banquet hall and housed Thompson Catering at some point. (The signs are hanging off the building.) ) Evidently too small for a growing Miller, it was replaced with the current sub-station on Hancock Street in 1962.


Below is a complete listing of the locations as derived, after 1925 from the city directories, of the post office locations.

  • 1865 – to 1909 – the “hen coop”.
  • 1909-1925 Possibly several locations: North residence, Stillson’s at 617 Lake Street, and/or on the east side of Lake Street between E. 6th Place (Center) and Miller Ave. where it would be in 1925 to 1937.
  • 1925 – 637 Lake Street (between Miller Ave and E.6th place).
  • 1927 – 641 Lake Street (between Miller Ave and E. 6th Place next to the Miller Hdw & Paint & Jungheim’s confectionary.
  • 1929 – 641 Lake Street – now a branch of the P.O. in Minnie Todd’s confectionary.
  • 1930 – 641 Lake Street.
  • 1935 – 641 Lake Street.
  • 1937 – 617 Lake Street (Stillson’s grocery between Sixth Ave. and Miller Ave. across from the B&O passenger station at 618 Lake Street.
  • 1939 – 617 Lake Street (Stillson’s).
  • 1941 – 617 Lake Street (Stillson’s).
  • 1945 – 436 Lake Street (Miller Food Shops – between Fourth and Fifth Ave).
  • 1948 – 436 Lake St. (Same)
  • 1952 – 419 Lake Street (New building between 4th and 5th.)
  • To 1962 when the current location on Hancock was opened.

Postmasters

William Enos, the first postmaster, was followed by Henry Noe, neither of whom stayed around Miller. From 1871 to 1919 the position was in the hands of three people, or families. William George Cook was a telegraph operator who served eight three-year terms, James Ansbro three terms, then John North served one term and was succeeded by his daughters Emma and Marie. While is sometimes popular to call women postmasters “postmistresses,” the U.S. Postal Service’s official title for women has always been “postmaster.” (Footnote: For more about women postmasters see a USPS article on women postmasters. ) Cook, who married into the Miller Nelson family, had five sons, only one of whom stayed around Miller. James Hughes Ansbro, who owned the fifteen acres bounded by Miller Ave, 5th Avenue, and Lake Street, was to leave a huge legacy on Miller through his daughters. The same could be said for John North, who was at times a Miller trustee, living to the age of 95.


Below are pictures of Miller's principal postmasters in the early years.
William George Cook (1842-1897) served eight three year terms.
Photo from Cook's Find-a-Grave site: Tim Beckman.
While it is not absolutely confirmed, the older man on the right is likely James Hughes Ansbro (1829-1915) with his son-in-law Michael Stack.
Photo courtesy Patrick Ryan, J.H. Ansbro's GG Grandson.
John August North (1848-1944)
Emma Leonora (North) Carroll (1884-1975)
Photos of John North and Emma courtesy Tanis Carroll Pawson, Emma's granddaughter.

Cook would have had to deal with the hubbub of the name change. When the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was built through Miller in 1875 Commodore Vanderbilt, who owned the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, by then a subsidiary line of his New York Central, had the name of the post office changed from Miller to Vanderbilt, probably to spite his chief competitor. It was changed back in 1879.

During the “Great War,” the little Miller post office earned a distinction as being the leading fourth-class post office in the country to sell War Savings Stamps for the year 1918. (Footnote: The Times, February 6, 1919, page 11. For more about the War Savings Stamps see "Postal and Treasury Savings Stamp Systems: The War Years" at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum website.) The postmaster, Marie Carpenter, John North’s daughter, no doubt had the help of her son George who won a Boy Scout medal for his efforts.


There are two sources online for postmasters, both available at Ancestry.com. One is the Register of Civil, Military, and Naval Service, 1863-1959, printed every two years, includes how much they were paid for the two-year period. The pay register for the Postal Service at Ancestry only goes to 1911.

The other record is the actual handwritten record of appointments. At the right are the postmaster appointments for Miller from 1900 on. Click to enlarge.


Civil Register to 1911:

  • 1865 Wm. O. Enos $198.00
  • 1867 missing
  • 1869 H. C. Noe $25.00 (Owed $15.01)
  • 1871 W. G. Cook $36.00
  • 1873 W. G. Cook $24.00
  • 1875 G.W. Cook, from October 1...$56.90. (Vanderbilt P.O.)
  • 1879 W. G. Cook …………..
  • 1881 W. G. Cook $49.40
  • 1883 W. G. Cook $105.12
  • 1885 W. G. Cook $213.47
  • 1887 J.H. Ansbro $156.75
  • 1889 Jos. H. Ansbro $210.93
  • 1891 W. G. Cook $262.25
  • 1893 missing
  • 1895 James H. Ansbro $147.59
  • 1899 J. H. Ansbro $215.05
  • 1901 Jno. North $258.20
  • 1903 John North $253.14
  • 1905 John North $348.00
  • 1907 pages missing
  • 1909 Emma L. North $453.00
  • 1911 North, Miss Emma L. $450.00
Register of postmaster appointments 1865-1924:

  1. Wm. O. Enos - 7 Feb 1865
  2. Henry C. Noe – 24 Mar 1968 – 1871
  3. W.G. Cook – 8 Feb 1871 –Name changed to Vanderbilt 8 Sept 1874 – back to Miller’s Station 13 June 1879.
  4. W.G. Cook -- 13 June 1879 – 1882
  5. W.G. Cook – 28 Nov 1882
  6. James H. Ansbro – 6 May 1886
  7. Wm. G. Cook --- 26 July 1889
  8. James H. Ansbro – 2 Oct 1890
  9. James H. Ansbro – 12 Oct 1893
  10. John North – 19 Feb 1901
  11. Emma L. North – 18 Dec 1905
  12. Emma L. Carroll, née North – 26 Oct 1911
  13. Marie Carpenter, née North – 18 April 1913
  14. Gertrude Stillson – 6 Mar 1919 – Nov 8 1922
  15. Carrie S. Nelson – Aug 13, 1921 – 1924
  16. Lena M. Anderson 12 Dec 1924 Postmaster until Miller became a sub-station in 1927. She would continue as the sub-station's clerk for about a decade.

Street Names

Anyone researching a family using the censuses of 1920 and earlier is likely to get confused by the street names in the censuses. That’s because the street names were changed, and addresses assigned to houses, sometime between 1923 and 1925. As evidence, in the 1923 city directory William Westergren is listed as living on the east side of Osterman. In 1925 his address is 611 S. Howard.

Gary city directories exist from 1908 to 1975 but with some significant gaps notably in the early 1930s and the war years of 1941-1944. Ancestry.com has them online to 1960 almost complete. They are complete at the Lake County Library and the Calumet Regional Archives. The 1920 directory, the first to list Miller residents, only indicates what street someone lived on. The 1922 and 1923 directories at least indicate what side of the street a Miller resident lived. Miller was not included in the street guide until 1925. The following list of name changes was gleaned from primarily the 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (below) with help from the City Directories, the 1920 census, and a 1918 B&O RR track map in Miller.

  • Howard St. was Osterman St.
  • Huntington St. was Hanna Street.
  • Henry Street was Long Street.
  • Hancock was E. 1st Street.
  • Miller Ave. was Michigan St. (Aetna Street west of Lake Street.) Also called “Main Street” on the 1910 census.
  • E. 4th Ave was Ontario.
  • E. 5th Place (south of Fifth-Third Bank) was Lillian Ave.
  • E. 6th Ave (south of old Ming Ling, not be confused with 6th Place.) was Esther.
  • E. 6th Place (between Chase Bank and old Miller School) was Center Street, and “Swede Ave.” on the 1920 census.
    ----- In 1910 Town Clerk Mike Zeibor discovered that there were six Center streets in Miller owing to the fact that every time a new addition was platted the real estate men named one of the imaginary new streets as "Center." The trustees made this, now East Sixth Place, as the ONLY Center street. (Footnote: "Miller Starts to Improve Sidewalks," The Times, Nov 17, 1910, First Edition, page 7. )
  • U.S. 12 or Dunes Highway was called Ridge Ave on the Sanborn map. Dunes Highway wouldn't be built for a few years.

The red colored buildings on the Sanborn map indicate brick structures.

This photo, used in Linda Simon and Jane Ammeson's Miller Beach is quite instructive. Taken shortly before Lake Street was paved in 1922-1923, it shows Stillson's at 617 Lake Street. When enlarged note the sign pointing right to Michigan City down Miller Ave., and the signs on the left pointing to Carr's Beach (Dancing) and the "Gary Municipal Beach."


Acknowledgements, Sources, and Links

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Tanis Pawson, Patrick Ryan, and Steve McShane at the Calumet Archives for photos. And also to the librarians at the Lake County Library.

Sources:

While most all of the sources are either in footnotes or the text, special mention should be given to the following:

  • Location Reports: P.O. Reports of Site Locations, 1837 – 1950; National Archives and Records Administration (Chicago); Record Group 28, Microfilm Publication M1126, Roll 164.
  • Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1814-1971; National Archives and Records Administration (Chicago), Record Group 28, Microfilm Publication M841, Roll 34, Indiana Lake-Putnam Counties. Also available at Ancestry.com.
  • Ancestry.com. U.S., Register of Civil, Military, and Naval Service, 1863-1959[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
    Original data: Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census. Official Register of the United States, Containing a List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service. Digitized books (77 volumes). Oregon State Library, Salem, Oregon.

Additional Links:

Footnotes:

Show footnotes for printing.



© Text copyright: Steve Spicer            Feel free to email me: steve@spicerweb.org

Page created March, 2019