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Milesville Post Office celebrates 100 years

by Gayla Piroutek

"The first Star Route between Cherry Creek and Milesville was opened in 1919. Evan Griffith was the first mail carrier and though he had an automobile, he had to switch to horses at least half of the time as the only roads were trails. Griffith managed to get the mail through practically every conceivable way from 1919 to 1925, when Frank Dutton took over the route. Dutton handled the mail toting chores from 1925 until 1933, when Kenneth David took over.

"The route was only a 40 mile trip and during good weather, when the Cheyenne River was not on the rampage, the trip constituted a mere few hours, including stops at the mailboxes, shopping for the patrons and waiting for the carrier to arrive from Philip. But the weather can throw plenty of monkey wrenches into the postal service's machinery when it wants to. A half inch of rain on a couple of gumbo-faced hills along the way often caused David to return home, saddle up his horse Silver and "pony express" the mail past the sticky spots. Once out of the gumbo, David usually managed to get an obliging neighbor to haul him and his "must go" cargo to Milesville. On the return trip they were often loaded down with all classes of mail, including several parcel post packages." (Taken from the book, Prairie Progress in West Central South Dakota)

Henry Kertzman retired in 1945 and Albert Harvey managed the general store and became the next postmaster. He was postmaster from January 16, 1945, until October 2, 1945, when the job was turned over to Albert's wife, Leila K., who was the first woman to become postmaster of Milesville. When they left Milesville on March 10, 1946, no one showed interest in the job and there was no post office for almost a year. The patrons received their mail from a route out of Philip.

The Milesville Post Office reopened on March 1, 1947, with Randall Collins in charge. The post office was now located in a small building in Collins' yard, one-half mile east of Milesville. (Glen Hovland now lives at this homestead and the small post office building sits in his yard and is used for a tool shed.) When Collins was asked what the inside and outside of his post office building looked like, he replied with one word, "Terrible!" It was only 8'x12' and it was crowded.

In 1947, the nearest post offices in each direction were Moenville, Dupree, Hartley and Philip. During Collins' term, from March 1, 1947, until December 26, 1958, he remembers only one postal rate increase. A first class letter went from three to four cents. The penny postcard raised its rate to two cents. The post office had no lockboxes, but there were several general delivery customers. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Star Route went east of Milesville. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the route went west. The mail arrived each day by carrier from Philip. Sonny O'Neill carried the mail for awhile until 1952, when Ernie and Mildred Pierce became the mail carriers for the next 19 years.

Sunday was a busy day at the post office. The post office opened whenever someone arrived to collect his mail. Some of the daily papers that the patrons got included the Rapid City Journal, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the Mitchell Daily Republic. The Pioneer Review arrived on Thursdays, along with an advertising circular from Pierre, and the patrons were eager to get both. The most unusual thing that Postmaster Collins remembers delivering was a shipment of baby chicks that had to be delivered by airplane during the blizzard of 1949.

Collins moved to Rapid City, first working as a substitute carrier and then becoming a supervisor in 1964, before retiring from the postal service in 1976, after a career of almost 30 years.

During the fall of 1958, the Allen Piroutek family had the front porch of their home closed in to serve as the post office, with Allen becoming postmaster on December 26, 1958. At that time, there were still several families and a few businesses in town. Piroutek had no locked post office boxes, but townspeople picked up their mail at the post office. About 75 families received their mail on the Star Route. The Star Route brought the mail out from Philip each day, and, for a time, went on to the Howes Post Office. Leonard and Phillis Thorson became the Star Route carriers in 1971, taking over from Phillis' parents, Ernie and Mildred Pierce.

Allen Piroutek saw the cost of a first class letter rise from four cents to 15 cents, while he was postmaster. Piroutek stated, "We've had a few problems when the weather was bad, but not many. I do remember one time that we were without mail for a week." When Allen and Kathryn Piroutek moved to Philip in 1977, he continued to drive out to Milesville each day until his retirement on August 25, 1979, after almost 21 years of service.

Gayla Piroutek was the next postmaster, a job she has held for 27 years. One of her most interesting deliveries was the day the parcel of honey bees arrived at the post office. The recipient of the bees was not scheduled for mail delivery on that day as he lived on the tri-weekly route. The patron quickly understood the need for prompt pickup and made a beeline for the Milesville Post Office so his parcel wouldn't spend another day there with 20 to 30 bees hovering around the outside of the box.

Another interesting package was a long one, longer than the width of the post office. It took some maneuvering to get it on the scale to be weighed, postmarked, and dispatched.

The active Milesville community, with its friendly and courteous people, hopes many can join in the celebration of 100 years for this very special town. Stop by the post office during the month of May and plan to attend the "Special Activities" which are planned for July 4th, along with the usual pit barbecue and fireworks.