The History of Fillmore's Post Office
by
Ellen Finley

The Fillmore Post Office was established on October 24, 1887, with the appointment of Elbert Bailey Turner as first postmaster.[1]  Since Fillmore was not recorded as an official city until August 1, 1888[2], there was a post office before there was a city.

Elbert B. Turner, Fillmore's First Post Master

Prior to Mr. Turner’s appointment, the people of Fillmore had to go to Bardsdale for their mail.  In those days there was no bridge across the Santa Clara. Fording the river was often dangerous and sometimes impossible. Bardsdale’s first postmaster, Royce G. Surdam, appointed May 18, 1887, was a good-natured, accommodating man.  Having carried the mail sack from the Fillmore Railroad Station to Bardsdale, he would often go back across the river with the mail for Fillmore in his vest pocket.[3]

In late 1887, Fillmore consisted of the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot (at that time in an old boxcar) and four other buildings. One was a rooming house run by E. B. Turner and his wife, located on the west corner of what is now Main and Central[3]. According to Mrs. Turner, the first post office in Fillmore was a goods box in a front bedroom of their rooming house.  After about a year, the post office moved to the railroad depot and Mr. Turner appointed George Tighe assistant postmaster.  Mrs. Turner quotes her husband as saying there was not any money in the position of postmaster and it was no honor to work for nothing.[4]

Fillmore First Post Office

The Cottage Hotel, the boarding house owned by Turners. 

Per Finley this would have been on the Northwest corner of Main and Central

On Christmas Day, 1887, Caswell Carl Elkins and his family arrived in Fillmore.  As soon as possible, Mr. Elkins erected a two-story building on the east corner of Main and Central where the Bank of A. Levy now stands.  The first floor was a badly needed general merchandise store; the Elkins family, for a time, used the second floor as their residence.[6]  On March 26, 1889, C. C. Elkins was appointed Fillmore’s second postmaster and kept the post office in his store.[7]

The big store building at the east corner of Main and Central remained the location of the post office for about ten years.  During this period, Mr. Elkins was devoting most of his time to the citrus industry, apparently leasing his stock and store.  In 1891, the store was run by L. H. Amsbury and his partner, George S. Barnes.[8]  Amsbury was appointed postmaster on September 14, 1891.  Next to lease the store was C. G. Willman who was appointed postmaster on February 18, 1892.  By March 8, 1895, however, Willman, who was in failing health, sold out to James Duncan[9]. The Ventura Free Press related that, while Mr. Willman was to go to Honolulu for his health, his wife, Miss Edna, was to continue to serve the patron of the post office. Public sentiment apparently favored letting Willman run out his term, but since there was a “large crop of aspirant for the position of postmaster”, this did not happen.  On April 8, 1895, S. A. Guiberson, Jr. was appointed postmaster and, shortly thereafter, both Mr. and Mrs. Willman departed for Honolulu.[10]

Second (right) and Third (left) Post Office locations.  On the intersection of Central and Main.

The one on right was originally built by C. C. Elkins

During Guiberson’s tenure as postmaster, the post office probably remained at the same location, the store now run by James Duncan[11].  Duncan was a Scotsman, “just over from the land of oatmeal and shorter catechism.” Coming to Fillmore to visit friends, he found the whole valley area extremely attractive so decided to stay[12].  Soon after he took over the store from Willman, Duncan hired as a clerk a young countryman, Richard Stephens.  The two soon became partners.  Ads for Duncan and Stephens pointed out that the store was the location of the post office as well as a telephone[13].  By January 28, 1898, the partners had moved their business across the street to an old tin building on the west corner of Main and Central; the Elkins’ store had been sold to C. A. Harmonson. On November 17 of that same year, James Duncan died.  A week later, on November 25 Richard Stephens was appointed Fillmore’s sixth postmaster a position he was to hold until 1915, making him the first Fillmore postmaster whose tenure lasted more than a few years.  Stephens’ appointment was vigorously opposed by the Elkins family, probably because the post office would then be moved from their store.  But the one thing that could have kept him from being appointed was not known to the opposition – he had not yet become an American citizen.[14]

Stephens’ new building replacing the one in the picture above. 

Note the eagle over the door to the post office

Now the fourth home of the post office was the same as it is first – the west corner of Main and Central – where Turner’s rooming house had stood.  Stephens soon purchased more property adjacent t the corner and announced plans to erect a new building on the same site[15].  Completed in 1910 this building still stands today doing business as the Downtown Village Market [2020 - Estrella Market].  On the sidewalk in front f the corner entrance, the name “Stephens” still can be seen in large letters of green tile on white.  The post office was in the same building as Stephens’ store, separated from the store but with a connecting door as well as a front door on Central Avenue.  By 1911, the store was occupied by Cash Commercial Company operated by Charles Harthorne.  Mr. Stephens remained postmaster assisted by his wife Stella and Nell Crippen Ward.  A picture of the Cash Commercial Store in 1914 shows a decorative cornice on Central Avenue side with a flag flying over the post office[16].  The cornice and flagpole remain today over a wooden insert which probably covers the former front door of the post office. [Gone in 2020]

Now Estrella Market, "Stephens" is still shown in the entry way

When Richard Stephens retired a postmaster after a little over sixteen years of service, Philippe P. Roche (Phil) was appointed to the position on February 25, 1915.  Mr. Roche owned a jewelry store on the east side of Central[17], just north of Mack Wooldridge’s Orange Leaf Café (about where Ballard’s Furniture store is now [1988]). Exactly when the post office was moved to Mr. Roche’s place of business is not known.  However, a picture in the Fillmore Museum, taken in 1915 shows Roche’s Jewelry Shop as the site of the post office at that time[18].

Roche Jewelry became the home of the post office.  East side of Central Ave. 300 block

When Fillmore incorporated in 1914, the time seemed right for a larger, more convenient post office.  When the modern elegant Masonic Temple was built in 1919, space was provided at 455 Sespe Avenue, the post office opened for business there on Monday morning, January 5, 1920[19].   When Mr. Roche retired in the summer of 1921, T. H. Zimmerman was appointed acting postmaster, receiving the appointment of postmaster February 10, 1922.

The Post Office moves to the new Masonic Building on Sespe.in 1920, Photo c 1940

The city of Fillmore continued to grow at a steady rate so that, eventually, the post office outgrew its home in the Masonic Building.  Then in 1941, Duard Gobel, local business man, hired a local contractor, George Dipple to construct a building in the space o the west side of Central formerly occupied by the Fillmore Café and Wilson’s Furniture Store[20].  Plans called for a one-story commercial building with two brick store-fronts and a tall panelized stucco parapet[21].  The larger store-front with two would be for the post office, bult to the department’s own specifications; the smaller store front would be for Mr. Gobel’s jewelry store.  On April 6, 1951, the post office department accepted the Gobel Building[22] and, on Monday morning, June 4, the Fillmore Post Office opened for business as usual at the location it still occupies.  Gobel’s smaller building is now occupied by Howard Jewelers. Joel K L Schwartz, postmaster at that the time of the move, announced that the same email boxes would be used temporarily in the new lobby; within a few months, a completely new set of boxes would be installed, giving the local branch a total of 485 boxes, 175 more than they then had[23]. (The old boxes are currently at the Fillmore Museum; soon they will be placed in the renovated Bardsdale Post Office located at the rear of the Museum) [the boxes are on display in the Bardsdale Post Office at the current Museum site.]

1951, back to Central Ave, picture c 1993

Former Fillmore Post Boxes in the Bardsdale Post Office at the Fillmore Historical Museum

Joel K L Schwartz is something of a legend in Fillmore history.  Appointed acting postmaster on March 8. 1934, he became postmaster less than a year later February 9, 1935.  He served in this capacity for over twenty-six years, retiring on May 31, 1961 as the oldest postmaster in point of service in Ventura county.[24]

The following have been appointed since the resignation of Mr. Schwartz:

Maurice E. Ball                                Acting Postmaster                           May 31, 1961

Maurice E. Ball                                Postmaster                                       July 26, 1965

Alfred V. Lopez                                Officer-in-Charge                            April 15, 1977

L. Louise Dupatta                            Officer-in-Charge                            December 5, 1977

Carol A. Chaney                               Postmaster                                       March 25, 1978

Ernie G. Figueroa                            Officer-in-Charge                            December 1, 1978

Edward C. Molina                            Postmaster                                       June 16, 1979

(There is no difference between an acting postmaster and an officer-in-charge; the former was used to designate a temporary postmaster until Postal Reorganization while the latter has been the preferred term since that date.)

In the 101 years during the Fillmore Post Office’s move from a goods box in a rooming house to a modern, efficient building, many changes have taken place in postal regulations and services. Here are a few.

Parcel post stamps went on sale January 1, 1913, along with the announcement of new parcel post laws. The United States was divided into eight postal zones at this time.[25]

Postal employees went under Civil Service in 1936.  Before this, there had been no retirements. According to Joel Schwartz, there was a new postmaster every time there was a new president.[26]

Drop boxes were installed in Fillmore on September 30, 1936.  The first was at the corner of First and Saratoga.  Others were at Central and Main, Clay and Santa Clara, Sespe and Mountain View, and Saratoga and Third.  The cement posts had 1936 embedded in the tops.  The first to post a letter in a drop box was the mayor at the time, Lester Price.[27]

Mail delivery began in Fillmore in 1936.  Prior to November of that year, mail was available in Fillmore only at the post office boxes in the post office lobby. (There had been delivery of mail by rural route carriers for many years, early carriers having been Byron Wylie and E. B. Haynes.)[28]

The office of Postmastre General lost Cabinet Status with the passage of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 on August 12, 1970; this took effect on July 1, 1971.[29]

Post Script

Ellen Finley wrote this in February, 1988, for Fillmore’s Centennial Celebration.  In 1994, the building the Post Office was in received major damage and was modernized. 

[1] Rita Moroney, Historian, Office of the Postmaster General, Washington, D. C.

[2] Ventura County Records

[3] Sheridan, History of Ventura County, Vol. I., p .445

[4] Picture given to Fillmore Museum by Tillie Harmonson

[5] Fillmore Herald, April 28, 1933, p. 2

[6] Sheridan, Vol. I, p. 442

[7]History of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura Counties, by Gidney, Brooks, Sheridan, Vol. II, p. 494

[8] Sheridan, Vol I, P. 452

[9] Ventura Free Press, Nov. 13, 1891

[10] Ventura Free Press, March 8, 1895; March 15, 1895; April 12, 1895

[11] Ventura Free Press, March 8, 1895

[12] Ventura Free Press, April 12, 1895

[13] Homeseeker and Tourists Guide and Ventura County Directory, 1898-1899 – dated January 28, 1898

[14] The Way It Was, by Joel K L Schwartz, p. 8

[15] Fillmore Herald, May 28, 1909

[16] The Gold Book, 1914 - 1964

[17] Fillmore Herald, December 18, 1914; February 12, 1915

[18] Photo from “Fillmore – Then and Now”

[19] Fillmore Herald, January 2, 1920

[20] Fillmore Herald, January 26, 1951

[21] Ventura County Cultural Heritage Book Survey Phase II

[22] Fillmore Herald, April 6, 1951

[23] Fillmore Herald, June 1, 1951

[24] Fillmore Herald, June 2, 1961

[25] Fillmore Herald, January 3, 1913

[26] Personal interview with Joel Schwartz

[27] Fillmore Herald, July 16, 1981, P. 1, by Dorothy Lynch

[28] Interview with Mr. Jim Haynes, Fillmore, and Mr. Morris King, Piru

[29] Rita Moroney, Historian, Office of the Postmaster General, Washington, D. C.

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