Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Los Angeles Postmasters- (1850 to 1900)

BY H. D. Barrows.

Although California was declared by proclamation at Monterey July 7, 1846, to be a part of the United States, and was ceded to the United States by Mexico by formal treaty February 2, 1848, a post office was not established at Los Angeles until April 9, 1850. The following is a list of the postmasters from 1850 to 1900, every one of whom, except the first, I knew personally, namely:

J. Pugh, appointed April 9, 1850.

Wm. T. B. Sanford, appointed November 6, 1851.

Dr. Wm. B. Osbourne, appointed October 12, 1853.

Jas. S. Waite, appointed November 1, 1855.

John D. Woodworth, appointed May 19, 1858.

Dr. T. J. White, appointed Mar. 9, 1860.

Wm. G. Still, appointed June 8, 1861.

F. P. Ramirez, appointed October 22, 1864.

Russell Sackett, appointed May 5, 1865.

Geo. J. Clark, appointed January 25, 1866.

Geo. J. Clark, re-appointed March 2, 1870.

H. K. W. Bent, appointed February 14, 1873.

Col. I. R. Dunkelberger, appointed February 3, 1877.

Col. I. R. Dunkelberger, re-appointed 1881.

John W. Green, appointed 1885.

E. A. Preuss, appointed 1887.

J. W. Green, 2nd term, appointed 1890 (died July 31, '91).

Maj. H. J. Shoulters, acting postmaster about seven months, August, 1 89 1, to February, 1892.

H. V. Van Dusen, January 6, 1892.

Gen. Jno. R. Mathews, December 20, 1895.

Louis A. Groff, 1900.

Capt. W. T. B. Sanford, the second incumbent, was a well-known and thorough going business man, here and at San Pedro, in the early '50's. He was a brother of Gen. Banning's first wife, and was also engaged with him in the freighting business.

Mr. J. M. Guinn, our secretary, has already furnished the society with a sketch of versatile Dr. Wm. B. Osbourn.

James S. Waite was for some years the publisher (but not the founder) of the pioneer newspaper of Los Angeles, "The Star."

Mr. J. D. Woodworth, who was appointed by President Buchanan, was a native of Vermont, but he came from Des Moines or Keokuck, Iowa, to Los Angeles. The office under his administration was located in the one-story adobe on the west side of Spring Street, nearly opposite the Bullard block. Wallace Woodworth, for some years president of our county Board of Supervisors, was a son of Mr. Woodworth; and he died about the time of his father's death. The Woodworth family were relatives of Col. Isaac Williams of El Chino rancho. Mr. Woodworth was a cousin of Samuel Woodworth, author of "The Old Oaken Bucket." In the '60's and '70's he lived near San Gabriel Mission, where he had an orchard and vineyard, which, later he sold to Mr. L. H. Titus, who died recently; and then bought the Dr. Hoover vineyard, adjoining the Dr. White place, near the river, where he died September 30, 1883, aged 70 years.

Dr. T. J. White was quite an eminent physician. I think he came from St. Louis to Sacramento, which district he represented in one of the first legislatures of California. Later he moved to Los Angeles with his family. Col. E. J. C. Kewen married one of his daughters, and Murray Morrison, at one time District Judge here, married another daughter. All are now dead except a son and daughter of Col. Kewen, and young T. Jeff White, the third of that name. This young man is a grandson of the old doctor, Thos. Jefferson White, the distinguished pioneer of Sacramento and Los Angeles, whom many old-timers will well remember.

Wm. G. Still was appointed postmaster by President Lincoln, about the time of the commencement of the Civil war. The office was located then in the one-story frame building, belonging to Salizar, on the west side of Main Street, between the Downey block and Lafayette Hotel (now St. Elmo). Political excitement, I remember then ran high here; and a secessionist gambler tried to assassinate Postmaster Still by firing a pistol ball at him through the ^thin board partition of the office.

I remember that Still, Oscar Macey and myself were sent as delegates from this county to the State Convention of the Union party, held at Sacramento in 1862.

Mr. Still had been a Douglas Democrat, and he was a very intense Union man; but I recollect that when the news first came that President Lincoln would issue an emancipation proclamation as "a war measure," he remarked to me somewhat excitedly that the President "had better leave that slavery question alone." Later he thought better of President Lincoln's wise action. I do not know from what State Mr. Still came, or if he is still living.

Mr. Ramirez was a talented Californian, a native of Los Angeles, who I think was educated by old Don Louis Vignes. He spoke and wrote English and French, as well as Spanish; he represented this county in the legislature, and edited and published for several years, in French and Spanish, a paper called "El Clamor Publico."

Russell Sackett, who was postmaster for a brief period, was an attorney and justice of the peace. Whilst I knew him quite well, I never happened to learn from what part of the country he came, or anything about his antecedents. I think he has been dead a good many years.

Captain George Johnstone Clarke was for many years a prominent citizen of Los Angeles. He served two terms as postmaster of this city, that is, from 1866 to 1873, and also for a long period as notary, conveyance, and as school trustee, etc. His first post-master's commission is signed by Andrew Johnson, and is dated January 25, 1866, and his second-term commission is signed by U. S. Grant, and dated March 2, 1870.

At the commencement of his term the office was located on Main Street between the Downey block and the Lafayette, now the St. Elmo Hotel, the same place where it had been administered by his predecessor, Wm. G. Still; afterwards it was removed to the Temple block, on the Spring Street side, near the middle of the block, where it remained to the end of his incumbency, and till the appointment of his successor, H. K. W. Bent.

Capt. Clarke, was a native of New Hampshire. He was born on the 13th of July, 181 7, at Northwood. The family name of his mother before marriage was Johnstone. Young Clarke went to Australia in 1842, and came from there to California in 1850. Soon after arrival in San Francisco he bought 160 acres of land in Hayes' valley. He and Thomas Hayes, after whom the valley was named, were intimate friends, and had close business relations. From San Francisco he went to San Jose, and later to San Pablo and Russian River. At one time he ran a small steamer belonging to Col. Harasthy, between San Francisco and the Embarcadero on Sonoma creek; and also to Petaluma, where he first met his future wife. Miss Sarah Finley, to whom he was married in 1859. He came to Los Angeles County in 1862 and prospected for mines at Soledad. The next year he brought his wife here; and a company was formed, of which he was superintendent, for working the Soledad copper mines. Afterwards he was interested with James Hayward, son of Alvinza Hayward, in working the Eureka gold mine at Acton in this county. If I mistake not, he served with Judge W. G. Dryden and the writer of these lines on the school board sometime in the '60's. I remember he built a fine two-story residence, where he lived several years, on a lot which fronted on both Fort (Broadway) and Hill streets, on a portion of which the Slauson block, below Fourth Street, now stands. His house was then well out of town, and was a sort of landmark, as there were comparatively few residences in that neighborhood at that time.

During his later years he lived on lower Main Street, near 21st street. In 1864 a convention of the Union party was held in this city; and as a member of that convention, I remember very distinctly that Captain Clarke, as delegate from the Soledad precinct, was the first speaker to urge the recombination of Abraham Lincoln; and that he was very urgent and outspoken in his advocacy of the importance of such recombination as bearing on the prosecution of the war for the preservation of the Union.

Capt. Clarke and Col. Charles H. Larrabee sent to China (and, it is believed, were the first) to bring to California mandarin orange trees (two kinds), which were widely propagated by budding, by Mr. Garey and others. Col. Larrabee and Capt. Clarke also introduced into California at the same time. Pomelo and Loquat trees. Capt. Clarke was an ardent Republican, a faithful official and good citizen. He was genial and what the Spanish call "corriente" m his ways; he was easily accessible to all; and was generally well liked.

Capt. Clarke died August 2, 1890. Mrs. Clarke is still a resident of this city. They had no children.

All of the foregoing are supposed to have deceased. All incumbents since Capt. Clarke, except Mr. Green, are still (June, 1900) living.

Mr. Bent, who served as postmaster under President Grant's administration, is a resident of Pasadena. He is a native of Wey-mouth. Mass., where he was born October 29, 183 1. He came to Los Angeles in October, 1868.

I assume that the reputation of Mr. Bent and of the other incumbents, his successors, who are still living, are generally well known; and. therefore, it is hardly necessary for me to go very fully into details here concerning them. I believe Mr. Bent's efficiency as a public official was universally conceded by the community whom he served, from 1873 to 1877.

For many years the post office at Los Angeles has been one of constantly growing importance, both because of the phenomenal growth of the city in population and because this office has practically been a distributing office for Southern California and Arizona. Before the railroad era the mails were largely carried over stage routes, on which the mail matter could not be worked preparatory to final distribution (as now can be done on postal cars), thereby throwing an immense amount of work in the former period on the local office. Under Mr. Bent's administration the efficiency of the postal service which radiated from Los Angeles, was greatly increased in many respects. Mr. Bent served one or two terms as a member of the city Board of Education. He is at present a resident of Pasadena.

Col. Isaac R. Dunkelberger was appointed by President Grant February 3, 1877, and re-appointed by President Hayes in 1881. Col. Dunkelberger is a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1832. He was one of the first, if not the first man to enlist in that State in the Civil war. His regiment, the First Penn. Volunteers, was ordered to Baltimore at the time of the attack on the Massachusetts troops, and while there he received a commission as second lieutenant in the First Dragons, afterwards the First U. S. Cavalry, the same regiment which so distinguished itself in Cuba in the late war between the United States and Spain. Col. Dunkelberger was in thirty-six pitched battles, and in innumerable skirmishes. He was twice wounded, once through the left shoulder and left lung, his wound, at the time, being thought to have been mortal. His sufferings from this 'terrible wound during the last thirty odd years, from abscesses, which continue to recur at intervals to this day, have been most excruciating. His left arm is practically helpless.

After the close of the war he went to New Orleans with Gen. Sheridan, who there relieved Gen. Butler. From thence he was ordered to San Francisco, and from there to Arizona. In 1876 he resigned his commission in the army, since when he has resided in Angeles. Col. Dunkelberger married Miss Mary Mallard of this city. They have six children.

Of Mr. John W. Green's nativity and arrival in California, I have been unable to obtain information. He was first appointed by President Arthur, in 1885, and served as postmaster of Los Angeles till 1887, being succeeded by Mr. Preuss; he was again appointed in 1890, and served till his death, which occurred July 31, 1891.

Edward Anthony Preuss was born in New Orleans June 7, 1850, of German parentage. When he was three years old his family moved to Louisville, Ky., where he lived till 1868, when he left, via Panama, for California, arriving at San Francisco May 31, and at Los Angeles soon after. He had learned the drug business with his uncle, Dr. E. A. Preuss, in Louisville, and he came with him to Los Angeles, remaining in his employ some time here and later in the employ of Dr. C. F. Heinzeman. In 1876 he engaged in the drug business on his own account. During this time, from 1876 to to 1885, he had successively as partners, John H. Schumacher, the pioneer, C. B. Pironi, and C. H. Hance. In 1885 he sold out his interest to Capt. Hance.

Mr. Preuss was appointed postmaster by President Cleveland in 1887, and served till July i, 1890, when President Harrison reappointed John W. Green, who had been the immediate predecessor of Mr. Preuss. The post office during Mr. Preuss' incumbency was located on the west side of North Main Street, southwest of the Plaza Catholic Church; and afterward, on S. Broadway, below Sixth Street, in the Dol block, now known as the Columbia hotel. In 1877, Mr. Preuss was married to Miss Mary Schumacher. They have one son, Kenneth, now a man grown.

Mr. Preuss gives some interesting statistics concerning the phenomenal business of our local post office in the boom that culminated in 1887. From August 1 to December 31, of that year, a period of five months, over 39,000 forwarding orders and changes of address were received at the office, which handled the mail of 200,000 transients annually. He tells of the double rows of people which, on the arrival of the mails, extended from the approaches of the post office, nearly to the Catholic Church. He says it was very difficult to get the department at Washington to furnish sufficient force to handle the business of the office at that time.

On the death of Mr. Green, Maj. H. J. Shoulters became acting postmaster in August, 1891, serving till February, 1892, or about seven months. Maj. Shoulters, who is now assistant postmaster under the present incumbent, Judge Groff, is a native of Montpelier, Vt., born in '42. He came to Los Angeles in '84. He was in numerous battles in the Civil war, including the Wilderness campaign, where he had a leg smashed. He was elected city treasurer in 1892 and served two years.

Henry Van Dusen was born in Albion, N, Y., July 15, 1842, and came to Los Angeles in 1885, and was appointed postmaster by President Harrison, January 6, 1892, and served four years. He enlisted in the nth U. S. regular infantry at the commencement of the Civil war, was in five battles, and lost his left arm in the battle of Gaines' Mills, January 27, 1862.

Gen. John R. Mathews was appointed postmaster of Los Angeles December 20, 1895, by President Cleveland, and served some-thing over four years. He is a native of St. Louis, born in 1848, and came to California in 1883. Prior to his appointment as post-master, he served as State Senator and Brigadier General; and in each and every public position, he proved a very efficient official. He labored diligently and successfully to improve the postal service of this office and section. During his incumbency, full railway postal service for Southern California was secured, and some twenty-seven additional local and mounted carriers, clerks and station men were ordered.

The present force of Los Angeles post office is: Clerks, 41; carriers and collectors, 62; clerks at stations, 12; railway postal clerks, 46 - total, 161.

The increase in business of the office in the four years of Gen. Mathews' term, is indicated by the following brief showing: Receipts of the office, 1895. $177,911; receipts of the office, 1899, $228,417 - Increase, $50,506.

Judge Louis A. Groff, the present incumbent of the Los Angeles post office is a man of wide experience, having been Commissioner of the General Land Office under the administration of President Harrison, and he also served in other offices of trust and responsibility. He was only lately appointed postmaster of our local office by President McKinley. We have every reason to expect that he will maintain the high standard of efficiency which the office had attained under his predecessors. Judge Groff, I believe, is a native of Ohio.

AHGP California

Source: Annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and Pioneer register, Los Angeles, Part I. Vol. V.,1900


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