Editor’s Note: One day in early July I visited Murray Isle for a meeting to learn about the Thousand Islands Land Trust. I was one of the TILT members answering questions. A few minutes into the meeting I realized that the people on Murray Isle were true Islanders - many being 3rd or 4th generation summer people. Throughout the meeting there was a steady stream of young people, accompanied by an assortment of rambunctious dogs, all making their way in and out of the community building which serves as the Murray Isle U.S. Post Office, Community Center and Library. The mail boat had just arrived and postmaster Betty Lamb welcomed the children as they came in the store. Murray Isle’s Rachel Cole attended our TILT meeting and I asked if she would do a story for us. [Susan W. Smith]
Postmaster Betty Lamb exchanging mailbags with Brian Parker, the current mailboat driver, delivering the daily mail to Murray Isle. Photo courtesy Rachel Cole
We're not talking "Pony Express", but about a more-personalized mail service than most receive today, a service that is cherished and greatly appreciated.
Mail has been delivered to Murray Isle since 1896 – known as the “Hotel Era”. Margaret Nulty, author of the popular history entitled, Murray Isle, recorded Amasa Corbin as the proprietor of the Murray Hill Hotel at that time. She described the origin of the mail service.
After the Hotel was destroyed in 1925, mail continued to arrive by boat and was distributed from the Island’s dock house.
In the late forties, an old barracks building was placed on the lawn of Oak Point and this building houses the current Murray Isle Post Office, a Community Room and the Island’s Library. The same mail route, originating from Clayton, still includes a stop at Frontenac Island, Murray Isle and Grenell Island six days per week. In olden days a stop at Thousand Island Park was added.
In my youth, the schedule for in-coming and out-going mail kept a driver and Postmaster busy all day. The mail boat picked up at 8 a.m., delivered at 10; returned again at 3 p.m. and delivered the dregs at 5 p.m. Sometime in the 1980's, the schedule was tightened to "trade" the heavy canvas bags once per day. In 2009, a further cut brings the schedule to all of an hour and a half, six days per week, being open from 9 through 10:30 a.m. from June 16th to September 15th.
I haven't had much to do with the post office since Betty Lamb took the position six years ago. However, the sale of stamps is an important part of the Island’s economy. Betty describes how islanders make sure they order and purchase many thousands of dollars worth of stamps each summer. This summer the “Forever Stamps” and the “commemorative stamps”, including the 2009 Purple Heart and the Simpsons are the best sellers. Islanders with companies make sure they purchase a large supply to help ensure that the post office remains a viable entity and as a reminder of the days of summer.
After 1987, when Darlene Knapp gave up her nine-year run as Postmater, I spent years filling in and training the various Postmasters. I never held title, but I did get more than a glimpse of the operation. Sometime during Darlene's stint, the need to be bonded was dropped, although each year a new contract had to be signed by any new Postmaster. Payment was minimal and was often received a month late.
Collectors, over the years, regularly drop a note to the Murray Post Office asking for a clean sample of the cancellation which, all too often, read Murray "Island" instead of the preferred Murray "Isle".
Misdirected mail was quickly returned, and every now and then, we'd get Grenell Island’s mail by mistake. Today there are scales in the office, postage rate books, zip code directories and such. In my day, if there was a question about rates, one could send a package to Town for accurate weighing and pay the balance the following day.
One of my favorite sightings while tending shop was to hand over a personal note to our Thousand Islands Sun columnist at the time. A standard white envelope, well traveled, had several cancellations originating in Europe which merely read "Polly". Apparently, our gal Pauline Daw, secretary for World Hello, must have had recognition throughout the system!
My mother, Beverly Runyan Cole, would occasionally use the mail boat to go to town for ice cream, a product that did not keep well in the old icebox. When most families had their own boats, fewer riders went to and fro on the mail boat. Mom tells me that trips to Clayton with the Calhoun's were $ .25 each way.
Mrs. Nellie Martin Goldie, Postmaster from 1935-1947, is honored with a plaque at the base of the flag pole in front of the Community House. She was well-loved, carried a few staples like milk and cigarettes, and aside from a three year reprieve due to health reasons, her family held the Postmaster's position for fifty years. When Thussie took over, the "change" was noticeable. My brothers and I were often scolded with the line, "I don't accept Canadian money" even though we stood drooling over her candy selection.
Although the size of each product has decreased, penny candy does exist at our Island Office. Each generation is reminded that postal duties come first, but kids can't wait for that a.m. call to go to the "candy store".
Close to the end of the 1994 season, I took over the duties because Megan Tice had to return to college. Stock was low, so I scurried to Greys Wholesale to buy candy. While I sorted mail, Mom tended to Saturday’s candy sales - island children, of all ages, purchased $66.00 in penny candy! The biggest sellers were tootsie rolls, swedish fish and sour apple gummy things. The hardest part was helping each customer reach a decision about how they should spend their nickel. Never a dull moment at the Murray Isle Post Office!
Some memories of Murray Isle…
|"Miss Corbin said that she remembered that the dock house had been towed from some island by Captain Taylor and it had been put on the dock to be used by the cottagers. Minutes July 1929" [Page 67]
|"...the dockhouse was the office for steamer tickets, baggage, express and freight, becoming, after the hotel was gone, the post office, telegraph office, store and only public building on the island.[Page 67]
|"...high waters of 1947 made it untenable and unsafe, forcing Mrs. Goldie to distribute milk and mail under a tent on the lawn. [Page 67]
|…"A special Association meeting that July (1947) authorized the purchase of a surplus army building from Pine Camp for $850...stands where the hotel stood, housing the post office in one end, the library in the other and, in between, a community room large enough to hold the annual association meetings...contributions of $996.50 were only $20 short of the total cost." [Page 68]
Prominent mailboat operators were Harold Dano, Emmett and Maggie Calhoun, Ed Slomczewski, who also ran a Mama and Papa store on Grenell Island, and Salt Garnsey, a local fellow from Grindstone Island.
We salute each!
By Rachel Cole, Clayton, New York
Rachel Cole is a proud, fourth-generation, Murray Islander. Her writings can be found the Thousand Islands Sun – often about the people and the Isle. Rachel will tell you that she was able to "tie a cleat before learning to tie her shoes". On Murray Isle she has worn the hats of maintenance crew, tennis court prep, postal clerk, assistant fire chief, secretary and she has told us that she “ Can still tie a cleat, but rarely wears shoes!”