Published in "The Madison County Record" January 28, 1998 issue:


by Joy Russell

Official records of the Post Office Department show that a post office was first established at the present site of Witter, Arkansas, on 26 December 1850. The name of this post office has not always been "Witter" and there were four times during the time period of 1850 to 1895 when the post office ceased operation.

Today's post offices are a far cry from what the beginning post offices were like. Most early post offices were located in a corner of someone's home or business and consisted of merely a couple of shelves where the mail was sorted and placed until someone came to pick it up. Congress gave the federal government sole power to provide postal services in 1789, even though there had been a mail system in the Colonies as early as 1639. The first postage stamp was issued in 1847 and stamps were required on all letters in 1855. There was no home delivery until Congress approved money to begin Rural Free Delivery in 1896, but it was 1917 before it was in operation in every state. For the first time, farmers were able to receive their mail delivered to their homes, without making a sometimes lengthy trip to the local post office. By 1901 there was a total of 77,000 post offices in the United States. Early post offices required the use of trains, stagecoaches, or pony express riders to carry the mail from town to town. On the applications which were filed to establish the post offices at Witter, one of the questions asked was, "What is the name of the most prominent river and what is the distance from this river?". Another question was, "If near a railroad, state on which side the office will be located, how far from, and the name of the station or depot".

The first post office at present day Witter, was called "War Eagle" and was established on 26 December 1850 by Michael Robinson. Postmasters at War Eagle and the dates of their appointments were: Michael Robinson, 26 December 1850; Henry H. Bolinger, 10 September 1853; Samuel R. Shepherd, 11 April 1855; Benjamin I. Wood, 19 February 1858; John S. Cluck, 11 May 1858; Andrew J. Bolinger, 17 April 1866; War Eagle post office discontinued on 31 July 1868; War Eagle post office re-established on 10 November 1869 by William J. Seamon; William J. Seamon, 21 November 1871; and John W. Robinson, 22 February 1875. War Eagle post office was discontinued and closed on 3 January 1876.

Over a year later on February 1, 1877, A. L. Thompson filed an application to re-establish the War Eagle post office. That application was returned and on the side of the application it written: "There is now a post office in Benton County called War Eagle Mill, and it is advisable that your proposed office should be of a different name to War Eagle -- please fill out and return this blank." The application was re-submitted with the name "Grant" being chosen for the post office and that name was approved on 27 March 1877, with A. L. Thompson as postmaster. Postal records show that the Grant post office was first located 1/4 mile West of War Eagle River with mail being brought to Grant three times a week and that this post office served about 200 people. This location was in the old stagecoach stop which was located just south of Elton and Pat Cleaver's present home, and which was at that time directly on the main road running from Huntsville to Cass. On 24 April 1891, Calaway Seals filed an application to move the Grant post office to the north side of War Eagle, with mail then being delivered to Grant six times a week and mail service being provided to 100 families. From that date to the present, the post office has been located at several different locations in and around the present site of Witter. Postmasters at Grant and the dates of their appointments were: Wm. H. Bolinger, 18 April 1877; Grant post office discontinued on 18 October 1880; Grant post office re-established on 19 November 1885 by Simon P. Smith; mail from Grant moved to Aurora on 16 October 1890; re-established as Grant by Calaway Seals on 28 May 1891; mail from Grant again moved to Aurora on 15 October 1892; re-established as Grant by Chas. R. Samples on 16 March 1895; Henry Dennis, 21 February 1896; and Mary Kidwell, 21 August 1897.

Then on 29 January 1898, the name of the Grant post office was changed to "Witter". According to early residents, the name was changed in honor of Elias M. Witter, who was operating a store and possibly a grist mill or saw mill at Witter in 1898. Evidently Mr. Witter was highly respected by the community and one person remembered hearing that Mr. Witter did some type of heroic deed and the community wanted to honor him by naming the post office after him. I have searched the land records, and I cannot find any reference to Elias M. Witter owning land at Witter. Elias Witter filed his homestead claim on 5 July 1889 for 160 acres located on Baldwin Creek about five miles southeast of St. Paul in Section 14, Township 13, Range 26. Elias Witter was born 11 February 1852 and died on 11 May 1906 at St. Paul and was buried in the Kilgore Cemetery which is located about one-half mile from his homestead. Elias Witter never held the job of post master at Witter, however during the period of 1880-1885 he was postmaster of a post office named "Beulah" which was located near his homestead on Baldwin Creek.

Postmasters at "Witter" and the dates of their appointments were: Mary Kidwell, 29 January 1898; William B. Markham, 5 December 1899; James W. Page, 28 July 1900; Squire Holland, 13 November 1901; William R. Gabbard, 31 March 1902; Henry R. Bolinger, 14 August 1902; Wm. B. Markham, 5 June 1908; Geo. L. Shepard, 13 February 1909; Chas L. McElhaney, 13 October 1916; Newton P. Reynolds (acting postmaster), 16 August 1930; Newton P. Reynolds, 24 November 1930; Mrs. Rhoda E. McElhaney (acting postmaster), 22 April 1931; Mrs. Rhoda E. McElhaney, 5 May 1931; John L. McElhaney, about 1940; Hoy M. Haught, 16 December 1966; and Dan Wight, August 1993 to present.

Since the name "Witter" was approved for this post office on 29 January 1889, this week will mark the 100th anniversary of the Witter post office's existence under that name. This fact makes it even more special that last week the Witter post office moved into a new building which is about three times larger that the previous building. This new building is the property of the United States Postal Service and the lobby at this new building will remain open twenty-four hours a day, which has never been possible before. There are many more post office boxes available for rent and Postmaster Wight is hopeful that this new facility will provide better service for the entire Witter community.

Photo of Group at Witter Church/School, taken 1907-1908.

Copyright © 1999-2001 by Joy Russell. All rights reserved.
This site may be freely linked to but not copied in any fashion without written consent.