One may wonder about what mail service was available for the people living in what is now Athens when the first local settlers arrived. According to a letter received in 1852 by one such settler, the letter was addressed to him, Princeton, Mercer County, Virginia. In the 1850’s, other Post Offices were established in other locations in the region including offices at Bethel, Camp Creek, Deep Lick, East River, Flat Top, Frenchville (now Oakvale), Jumping Branch, Mercer Salt Works, Pipestem, Spanishburg and The Rock. Apparently, the people living in this area sent and received their mail, prior to 1866, at Princeton or possibly at any of the other somewhat nearby Post Offices.
However, on July 20, 1866, Benjamin Fanning, one of the original settlers, was appointed as the first postmaster for what is now Athens, West Virginia. His Post Office was his home which still stands and is located off West Broadway Street behind the Mt. Jackson Church. Mail was delivered to Mr. Fanning’s home for distribution once each week by a courier whose route, No. 4261, extended from Peterstown to Princeton. This route was probably the Red Sulphur Road create in the early 1850’s.
When Mr. Fanning received his appointment, he had to complete a form giving information requested by the Post Office Department. He was asked that if the new office was located in a village, to give the number of inhabitants; if not, to state the number of families residing within two miles. According to his response, Mr. Fanning apparently did not believe this to be a village, and he stated that twenty families lived within two miles of the proposed Post Office. Mr. Fanning was also asked to give a name for this new office. He was instructed not to use his own name, and that it was preferable to have some local or permanent name which was not to be that of any other office in the State. Since there was no recognized geographic feature or permanent name associated with the “no name” settlement other than the Concord Church which had been erected in 1858, Mr. Fanning gave the name Concord Church as the name to be used for the Post Office.
One may wonder what factors played a part in the appointment being made at this time, about ten years after similar appointments previously cited were made at other locations in the County. While possible reasons for the delay may have been related to a prior lack of sentiment or to factors that emerged in the early 1860’s associated with the Civil War, statehood, and the period of Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, it may be reasonable to conclude that a possible impetus for the establishment of a Post Office at Concord Church was the agitation that began in 1865 for the relocation of the County Seat from Princeton to Concord Church.
Upon examination of the proximity in time of events, it may be reasonable to conclude that a coordination of efforts may have existed that linked the Mercer County Board of Supervisor’s election held on July 6, 1866 on the question of the removal of the site of the Court House from Princeton to Concord Church, the appointment of a Postmaster in Concord Church on July 20, 1866, and the certification on July 30, 1866 of the Board’s election results in favor of Concord Church.
Although reliable information concerning the postmasters who have served this area is available from the United States Postal Service, the specific places where the early postmasters provided their usual services is not available. Because fourth class offices were not given allowances for rent (Athens was not advanced to third class until July 1, 1915), one can only assume that they had to be in locations readily available to the public for receiving and distributing mail. More than likely, during the 19th century, these services were provided in a small space in the Postmaster’s home or place of business.
Instead of speculating about places where the earlier postmasters provided their services, this endeavor will devote itself to the 20th century when such places are reasonably known. According to the memories of a few current and recent residents, the Post Office in Athens has been in four different places since 1905. In 1905, it was located in Postmaster James F. Pennington’s home on State Street. About 1915, it was on Vermillion Street on the first floor of a brick building built by Dr. Samuel Holroyd. About 1952, it was moved a couple of doors down Vermillion Street to the first floor of a brick building erected by Tom Barbery. In 1968, it moved into its present Post Office Building on Vermillion Street.
Benjamin Fanning, appointed Postmaster July 20, 1866
James F. Holroyd, appointed Postmaster April 19, 1871
James P. Campbell, appointed Postmaster July 1, 1893
ATHENS (name changed to Athens on July 1, 1896)
James P. Campbell, appointed Postmaster July 1, 1896
Rufus G. Meador, appointed Postmaster June 15, 1897
John F. Pennington, Appointed Postmaster April 5, 1905
Robert G. Oxley, appointed Postmaster February 15, 1915
Miss Rosa P. Oxley, appointed Acting Postmaster October 1, 1923
Miss Rosa P. Oxley, appointed Postmaster December 18, 1923
Bennie D. Wiley, appointed Postmaster June 17, 1936
Eddie Vermillion Kessinger, appointed Acting Postmaster July 31, 1965
Eddie Vermillion Kessinger, appointed Postmaster August 30, 1965