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Canoe post office held community together

Story by Kevin McKinley | All Things Southern

The recipe for success in a small community might include four things – a country store, churches, a school and a post office. Canoe, at one time, had all four. Yet, a post office is a thing that is unique to the above mix. Many times news from the outside world traveled by rail to the local post office where locals learned of distant battles, births and deaths; all inside the threshold of their local postal authority.

From the arrival of the first postmaster on Jan. 15, 1886, in the person of Mr. Peter H. Emmit, until the last postmaster, Mrs. Elna Lemmon, closed the door for the last time on June 15, 1976, the Canoe Post Office did much to provide the area with its unique identity. Yet mail from Canoe had an even earlier history.

According to an Atmore Advance article from March 11, 1976, a Confederate soldier addressed a letter to his wife with the postmark: “Canoe Station,” which may have been among the first letters mailed from the area. The article says historians can determine mail came and went in the tiny hamlet beginning in 1864.

The Canoe Post Office stood in several places over the years. At one time, it was in the P.E. Stanton store, which stood at the intersection of Highway 31 and Canoe Road South on the southeast side of the caution light. Perhaps the two best-known locations were in Robert Fate Lowery’s store, which was near the present block building on the north side of the tracks at the caution light and a little further down on the left was the last location. Lowery took a postmaster’s test and was awarded the job July 2, 1914. He would serve as head of the local post office for the next 44 years before retiring.

A little further down the lane from the Lowery store was the final location. It is believed the post office concrete step is still visible; although half grown into a water oak. The location is next door to the Frontier Communications in building in Canoe.  It stood at this location 46 years until its closing in 1976. The post office received mail by train, which would fly by and throw out a sack of mail and snatch a bag of mail off of a platform as it zoomed by.

The final building was 11-foot by 15-foot. The Canoe Post Office was handling 200 pieces of mail a day when it closed and 200 P.O. boxes were rented at the time of closure.

Mrs. Lemmon, the final post mistress, said in 1976, “I think the post office should remain open. I sell a good many money orders and it’s convenient for the people to come here to get money orders and stamps.”

At the time of the closing, Mrs. Carolyn Conn – a determined advocate for the community – told The Atmore Advance, “It’s revolting they are closing it down. It hurts me to think they’re going to close it. I don’t think it’s an economic measure.”

Yet Mrs. Conn and others didn’t take the closure lying down. The government threatened three times to close the facility, and the members of the Canoe Study Club, the Canoe Civic Club and the Canoe Homemaker’s Club and others bravely prevailed against the powers that be, except on the last attempt.

Yet with Mrs. Lemmon’s retirement in June 1976, there was little that could be done to save this portion of the community’s identity. Following the closure, residents received their mail as addressed to Route 4, Atmore. According to the records of the Civic Club from the era, “In late May 1976, we were notified for the third time, that the Postal Service was going to have to close – this time on June 18, 1976, as our postmistress, Mrs. Elna Lee Lemmons, had resigned before her term was up. Try as we did, we were unsuccessful in finding someone else to replace her before the deadline. As it seemed inevitable that the Postal Service would close it sooner or later, we tried to resign ourselves to that fact.” Mrs. Ann Key was club secretary at the time, and Mrs. Vivian Young was president of the club.

Mrs. C.W. Young stated at the time of the closure, “We would like to have it at least changed to ‘Canoe Route’ and that way we can save some of our identity.” She had the distinction of mailing what may have been the last letter from the Canoe Post Office on June 18, 1976. Never let anyone tell you Canoe didn’t have a zip code. The letter is addressed with the zip 36514. Mr. Ellie Bailey dropped off the last mail delivered to the Canoe Post Office on the same date. He was my mail deliverer when I was a boy.

The Canoe clubs, previously mentioned, lobbied the U.S. Post Office to donate the old post office boxes and were successful. These are housed in the Canoe Civic Center and will hopefully soon be part of an exhibit on Canoe history inside the building.

The following are some of the Canoe Post Masters/Mistresses down through the years: Peter Emmit, Jan. 15, 1886; Andrew J. Hall, Jan. 15, 1886 and Nov. 5, 1900; Bertha Hall, July 1, 1949; Nell Hill, June 28, 1950; Adrain Jackson, June 20, 1882 (?); Josiah Kendrick, Dec. 7, 1869 (?) and May 22, 1879; Robert Lowery, 1914, and March 16, 1915; Wm. McCants, Feb. 23, 1898, Jas. H. Mullin, March 25, 1880; Wm C. Pace, June 2, 1896; Henry Ray, Feb. 16, 1891; Phillip Stanton, Aug. 24, 1905; and Randolph Young, Nov. 2, 1885

The civic-minded residents of Canoe did their best to save and preserve the identity of their proud community during an era of cutbacks and governmental malaise. They were proud of their history and their neighbors, and they had great faith in the goodness of those around them. Today, the Canoe Civic Club endeavors to carry on the fine work of those who came before us. Anyone interested in volunteering, helping or joining the Canoe Civic Club please contact Kevin McKinley at 251.294.0293.