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WV man seeks stamp for first rural mail carrier

Journal photo by Emily Daniels Bob Orndorff is pictured here with a cast iron mailbox he purchased at an antique sale.
Journal photo by Emily Daniels
Bob Orndorff is pictured here with a cast iron mailbox he purchased at an antique sale.

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A Bunker Hill resident has made it his personal mission to garner attention from the United States Postal Service to create a stamp commemorating a postal worker who died in the early 1900s.

Bob Orndorff, 83, who has developed a deep fascination with history since his retirement, has sought to shed light on the birth of Rural Free Delivery, which was established in Charles Town where he was raised, since happening upon a pamphlet he found while sorting through his father’s possessions in the wake of his death.

“I found the paper about a year ago in my father’s things. The more I read it, the more I thought it needs to be brought out more. It’s important,” Orndorff said. “A government agency like the postal service ought to pick up on this. The new generation of people ought to be aware that here in Charles Town, we have some history about (the postal service’s) development. Everyone should learn this history of Charles Town.”

Rural free delivery began when carriers started delivering mail to homes rather than residents having to make a trip to the post office to pick up mail.

The paper to which Orndorff is referring is a pamphlet including the dedication of a memorial erected to Harry C. Gibson, the first rural mail carrier, dated Oct. 1, 1946. According to Gibson’s headstone, which is located in Edge Hill Cemetery on Hunter Street in Charles Town, bears the inscription stating, “carried first rural mail in United States Oct. 1, 1896.”

Since finding the paper, Orndorff has written a letter to the United States Postal Service requesting the creation of a commemorative stamp for Gibson, and he has received a response.

According to a letter dated May 20, the postal service thanked Orndorff for his interest, and said the topic of a Gibson stamp is slated to be presented to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee for review and consideration at its next quarterly meeting. Although Orndorff isn’t sure when the meeting will take place, he did say he is hopeful, and he plans to write another letter addressed to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan soon.

“They’ve left me with the fact that they’re going to have a meeting with the stamp committee, and the letter seems positive that something might happen with it, and I’d be so happy if it would,” Orndorff said. “I think Harry Gibson should be commemorated. Not quite as much as John Brown, but up there pretty close. I’m really trying to get Harry Gibson’s history and his story with Rural Free Delivery out there to advance the history of Charles Town.”

Orndorff said the idea for a postage stamp commemorating Gibson just hit him one day.

“One day, I thought about a postage stamp, and how that would be perfect. It just came to me,” Orndorff said. “I thought, ‘I need something to commemorate the history of all this,’ so I wrote to the postmaster general.”

While Orndorff’s interest in Rural Free Delivery was sparked after finding the pamphlet amid his father’s possessions, there is a history of the postal service in his family.

“My dad used to work at the Charles Town post office years ago. I even have records where they paid him weekly,” Orndorff said. “We lived just a block from the main street.”

Orndorff said the only thing missing from his stamp proposal is a photograph of Gibson. He has been working with Doug Perks, the historian at the Jefferson County Museum on East Washington Street in Charles Town to locate one, but he said neither of them have had any luck. He plans to continue to research Gibson’s background, information on which Orndorff said is meager, and doesn’t want to stop at a postage stamp.

“I’d like to get the museum to set up some kind of display honoring the memory of Mr. Gibson, and I’d like for the post office in Charles Town to put a sign out front,” Orndorff said. “There’s one there presently, but it’s just a little one. I’d like to enhance that sign. I want to get as much publicity about this as possible, not for me, but for the history for the future generations of Charles Town.”

Although Orndorff has a background in science and retired as a medical technologist from the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, he has been taken by history and says he has a lot of raw material he wants to explore in the future.

“History is something you can’t change. It is what it is, you can’t change it. Whatever records there are, that’s it,” Orndorff said. “In today’s world, you don’t know what’s going to change right before your eyes. I find peace in thinking back to those days, that this part or that part of history was going on, and that’s how people lived. That’s what we know, and that doesn’t change. I love history so much, and I just want to advance it.”

Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.

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