In the 1870s, U.S. mail from Hockessin traveled by the Wilmington & Western Rail Road to Wilmington, Delaware, as Wilmington’s Post Office was the central distribution sorting and distribution location for the city and surrounding Delaware area. How would a letter, addressed to a resident of Kaolin, Pennsylvania, which is two miles from Hockessin, have traveled once it left Wilmington? For extra credit, what railroads would have been involved?
The following article is from the January 30, 1873 Every Evening and describes the route taken by a letter mailed in Hockessin and addressed to a family in Kaolin, PA. A two-mile “as the crow flies” distance involved a 95-mile journey via the U.S. Post Office. After being placed in a canvas bag with other Hockessin mail, the bag heads eastbound on a Wilmington & Western Rail Road coach to the U.S. Post Office complex inside Wilmington’s Customs House (built 1855) at 6th and King streets in Wilmington. To reach Philadelphia from Wilmington, the letter would have traveled on the Philadelphia, Wilmington, & Baltimore Railroad.
While not mentioned in the article, the West Chester & Philadelphia Rail Road would have moved the letter between Philadelphia and West Chester. At West Chester’s Post Office (established January 1, 1804), a change to the Philadelphia & Baltimore Central Rail Road would have routed the letter through Chadds Ford (Post Office was not established until April 1, 1904), Fairville (Post Office established March 20, 1849), Kennett Square (Post Office established July 1, 1803), Toughkenamon (Post Office established December 8, 1868), on its way to the Avondale Post Office (established December 29, 1828). The Kaolin Post Office (established on December 8, 1868) was serviced from the Avondale Post Office.
While the article cites an easterly route, at the time Landenberg had a Post Office (established November 17, 1848 as Chandlerville Post Office, later changing to Landenberg when the area adopted a new name by 1872.). Mail from the Landenberg Post Office in the 1870s would have traveled either east to Wilmington and on to Philadelphia for the northern states or south to Newark, Delaware, and on to Baltimore for delivery in the southern USA.
Interestingly the letter could have traveled from Hockessin to Landenberg on the Wilmington & Western Railroad. At Landenberg, the Pennsylvania & Delaware Rail Road would have been the mail carrier connecting Landenberg and Avondale. This route would have been approximately 30 miles in length.
Below is a section from a map dated 1871, “Map of the Rail Roads of Pennsylvania and Parts of Adjoining States,” showing the railroads that existed in northern Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania. It provides a good reference for the railroad routes available at the time of the 1873 newspaper article. A couple interesting observations begin with “the wedge” shown for the intersection of the DE-MD-PA borders. An original proposed route for the Delaware & Chester County Rail Road Company, which was eventually renamed the Wilmington & Western Rail Road Company, was along Mill Creek instead of Red Clay Creek, and this map indicates the Mill Creek route.