Keeping in touch with family, friends, and world events has always been vitally important to Americans. It has been through the early mail service and newspapers, and more recently through radio, television and the internet that we can keep up with the goings-on around us.
Our Postal Past
Ben Franklin, America’s first Postmaster General, was among the first early leaders in America to recognize that a national postal system would encourage the settlement and growth of frontier communities by contributing to the improvement of roads and the development of commerce. Early settlement and growth of new communities in Knox County was helped along when post offices were approved for both Clinton and Mount Vernon in 1809, in Fredericktown in 1811, and in many more communities in the years that followed. Mail arrived on horseback just once a week at first, and since most post offices were located in small stores, the “merchant-postmasters” gained business as local residents visited the stores regularly to send or pick up their letters. Our homemade postmaster’s desk from the town of Jelloway served that community for many years and was once carried outside to safety from a fire that devastated the post office and store there.
Our now-familiar postmarks were not generally used in small Ohio towns until the 1820’s or later, so postmasters often hand-wrote the town name and postage rate on the front of the folded letter. Between 1816 and 1845 the postal rates remained fairly constant and were based upon the weight of the letter and the distance sent. Single-weight letters sent under 30 miles cost six cents, 30-80 miles cost 10 cents, 80-150 miles cost 12½ cents, 150-400 miles cost 18 ¾ cents, and letters sent over 400 miles were charged 25c. Also during this time, the sender could prepay the letter, or it could be sent unpaid, to be paid for by the recipient.
Home mail delivery did not begin even in large American cities until after the Civil War, and it began in Mount Vernon in the 1880’s. As the volume of mail continued to increase, it became necessary to establish a system for the delivery of mail to rural residents as well. In the late 1890’s, many of Knox County’s 37 post offices began to be replaced by “Rural Free Delivery” service. The new RFD system made it possible in the early 1900’s for farm families to receive mail at home on a regular basis by means of horse-drawn mail buggies like the one driven for many years to area rural homes by Danville’s mail carrier, William Fesler.
Knox County has had about 55 different post offices during its long history, some of which were open only briefly, while others, such as Mount Vernon and Fredericktown, have been operating for more than 200 years. Our present ten post offices continue to provide mail service to county residents.
Knox County’s first newspaper was the Ohio Register, published first at Clinton in 1813 and then at Mount Vernon from 1816 to about 1820, when it closed. In 1825 the Knox County Gazette began, surviving for ten years through various owners and name changes. Our present and longest-running paper, The Mount Vernon News, traces its line back through the Republican News and its merger in 1939 with the Daily (Democratic) Banner, which started in 1838. In the years between, many other newspapers served the interests of our various communities, as well as the temperance, religious, and women’s movements, and the politics of not only Whigs, but True Whigs as well.
Radio and Cable TV
It was through a series of chance events that Knox County got its first commercial radio station, WMVO, in the summer of 1951. But it comes as no surprise that Helen Zelkowitz was at the center of those chance events. Since beginning as the advertising manager for the station, Helen has been our best-known on-air personality, and was the driving force at WMVO for over 45 years. “Mrs. Z” created the popular Coffee Cup program in the early 1950’s which provided daily conversations about current activities and events in area communities until her retirement in 1996. In 1970, Mount Vernon Cablevision began providing expanded television choices, with additional cable service now available throughout the county.