By Evaline Jones Auerbach
Special to the Crier
Some questions are harder to answer than others, such as:
Question: Is American Flag the oldest post office in Arizona?
Answer 1: At first glance, the answer is “no.” Many Post offices were established in Arizona before American Flag, which had a postmaster appointed on December 28, 1880 (as stated on the historic plaque at the building just off Mt. Lemmon Rd.). So why did people think that it was the first post office? Probably through a misreading of the passage in Oracle and the San Pedro which says “ the building at American Flag is remembered as the first post office for the miners.” -p. 126. In context, this means that it was the first post office in the area, built out where the miners lived.
Answer 2: To answer the real question: “Is American Flag the oldest post office still standing in Arizona?” I turned to the Postal History Museum in Tucson. From Lisa Hodgkins, I received this rather complex answer:
“For the Arizona Centennial I researched this very question…
“American Flag is one of the oldest, but not the oldest still standing. The Florence post office which operated out of the E.N. Fish General Store in Florence dates from 1871. It is still standing but is now a residence, so this is the oldest surviving post office building in the state.
“Chloride’s current Post Office apparently dates from 1876 but it was originally a pool hall not a PO (I read this on the internet, so I can’t vouch for this being completely accurate anyway). Fort Apache’s current Post Office also dates from the 1870s, but it was originally an officer’s quarters, not a post office. Because both buildings became post offices in the 20th century, I don’t think they count as “older” than American Flag.
“Bisbee’s 1907 post office is the oldest post office in AZ currently in use. It has been in continuous use since it opened.”
Answer 3 (a): Since American Flag, with postal service discontinued to “Oracle” on July 16, 1890, is currently recognized as an historic Post Office, maybe it still has a claim, compared to Florence.
Answer 3 (b): Another item in favor of American Flag is that it became an official post office of the United States again for one day on its centennial: December 28, 1980. That is the day that the notables gathered to celebrate the installation of the Historical Site plaque. Omega Williamson, a long-time worker at the Postal History Museum and a member/ volunteer for the Oracle Historical Society, had arranged for that distinction for the day. Some people have postmarks and cards from that day, especially designed for the occasion. Therefore, if we are talking about what post office is the oldest that was also serving as a post office most recently, we could quibble that it is American Flag, but hopefully that is such a dubious distinction, no one will go that far.
Oracle Post Office
The “Oracle Post Office” could be said to be just as old as American Flag, if one doesn’t talk about a dedicated post office building.
Indeed, a postmaster was named for “Oracle” on the same day as for American Flag (12/28/1880). James Buchanan was appointed that day and the Oracle “post office” was discontinued on April 24, 1883. (from Arizona Territory Post Offices and Postmasters)
Other historical research tells us that James Branson was employed by the 3C Ranch and lived in Oracle with his mother, where he “ran cattle” for his employer. Apparently the “post office” was at his home. It would take some research to find out which house that is.
In 1883, when Branson was required to take the cattle to the 3C, the people in the townsite of Oracle were deprived of local mail delivery and posting. To please his guests, Edwin Dodge applied for a post office to be located at the Acadia Ranch. However, as the local folklore has it (in most published materials about Oracle), it was said that he was told that he could not have a post office with more than one word in its name.
Since the post office the “Oracle” people had been using was “American Flag,” this has always seemed a bit strange, as a story. More needs to be researched on this order too, but the truth may just be that the establishment wanted to revert to the name they had given for the place the first postmaster worked.
In any case, the “Oracle Post Office” was opened in the Acadia Ranch house with Edwin S. Dodge as the postmaster. The door is still there, just inside the front door, as is the structure used for outgoing mail.
The post office was moved to the “Merchantile” of Oracle store owned by John W. Estill on Jan. 21, 1901, with Estill as postmaster. It remained, with the changing owners of the store becoming postmaster, including John W. Lawson and Leslie Terry, whose craftsman homes remain standing in this community.
The history of the store and of the other post offices, built as such, in Oracle can be saved for another day. Three have been built, including the present one, and all are still standing.
Personal Note: Abe and I were married December 20, 1980. I insisted on coming back from our honeymoon in Mexico to be at the celebration at American Flag.
Evaline Jones Auerbach is a founding board member, twice President and Historic Member of the Oracle Historical Society. However, she is not now associated with the OHS. If you wish to contact her with questions or information for future articles, please email Evalineja@gmail.com, call (520) 610-8742 or write 2045 W. Paseo Redondo, Oracle.