Santa Ana Post Office
(July 5, 1870 - )
Eight months after the town was founded, Santa Ana got a post office. It soon became one of the largest post offices in Orange County (and thus one of the best paying), so there was always plenty of competition for the appointment as postmaster. Historian Jim Sleeper dubbed it “the old editor’s home” because of the many newsmen who later served as postmaster.
In 1893 there was a controversy over the location of the post office. Originally it had been located in W.H. Spurgeon’s store on West Fourth Street. C.E. French moved it to the east side of town during his tenure but Spurgeon managed to get it back later by under-bidding him on the rent. Essentially this was a battle between merchants on east and west Fourth Street, who all wanted the business that would spill over from people coming to the post office to pick up their mail. Spurgeon offered to lease out the space for just $1 a year to lure the office back to West Fourth Street. But in the end it did not matter much, as home delivery soon began in Santa Ana. Still, Spurgeon and his family continued to hold the post office lease until 1931 when it moved into the new “federal building” on Bush Street (still in use today).
The Santa Ana Post Office had a station serving Floral Park from 1952 to 1969, and also maintained branches at the Santa Ana Army Air Base (1942-46) and the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (1946-1988).
William H. Spurgeon, 1870-1880
Town founder “Uncle Billy” Spurgeon (1829-1915) leads almost any list in Santa Ana – first merchant, first mayor, first chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and first postmaster. Spurgeon laid out the townsite and opened his store in 1869, with the post office following barely six months later. A prominent Democratic politician (he served in the State Assembly in the 1880s), it is worth noting that his appointments as postmaster all came from Republican presidents.
Charles E. French, 1880-1885
C.E. French (d 1914) was a Civil War veteran, an active Republican, and first came to prominence here as the local agent for James Irvine in the 1870s, handling sales and rental of farm land on the Irvine Ranch. Historian Jim Sleeper called him “Santa Ana’s most persistent postmaster,” having served under presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Cleveland. E.B. Cushman was his deputy postmaster, and was often left in charge of the office when French was away. But French also played an active role – for example, carrying the mail down from Los Angeles himself during the floods of 1884. He also owned the post office building. “The post office building is the private property of Mr. French; the Government pays him no rent.” (L.A. Times, 4-9-1882) He resigned as postmaster in 1885, citing ill health. In fact, a change in the political climate may have been the actual cause. “…Mr. French, being an ‘offensive partisan,’ has resigned.” (Times, 7-8-85) But he continued to play an active role in Santa Ana, especially during the real estate boom of the late 1880s when he invested in everything from streetcars to a three-story opera house. Later he got into banking. He was considered “one of Santa Ana’s wealthiest and best-known citizens” in the 1890s. The French Park neighborhood in downtown Santa Ana is named for him.
Robert F. Chilton, 1885-1887
“Our popular postmaster, C.E. French, has tendered his resignation as P.M., and I understand F. Chilton has been recommended for the position. Frank is a prompt and efficient businessman, and will make an efficient Postmaster, if appointed.” (L.A. Times, 3-21-1885) Chilton had come to Santa Ana in the early 1870s and worked in the post office under W.H. Spurgeon. He was a Democrat, and got the appointment from Grover Cleveland, our first Democratic president since the Civil War. But he served less than two years. “We are sorry to learn that Frank Chilton has forwarded his resignation as postmaster at Santa Ana to Washington. Frank, however, deems it his duty to himself and family to go into some business that will pay better than the post office, and he is right. For such a man to devote his time to the post office the compensation ought to be liberal, but is far from being so, and therefore Frank goes out, as soon as his successor is appointed and qualified. It is probable that Mr. Granville Spurgeon will be appointed to the position, and if he should be the public would be equally well served. Mr. Chilton will go into some other business here, and our best wishes are for his prosperity in whatever he undertakes.” (L.A. Herald, 4-11-1887) After leaving the post office Chilton went into banking. He also served as city treasurer and ran twice (unsuccessfully) for county treasurer. When he died in 1907 the Santa Ana Register (8-16-1907) noted: “Mr. Chilton has been a prominent and respected citizen of this city for over twenty years and will be widely mourned.”
Granville Spurgeon, 1887-1888
“Mr. Chilton, the postmaster here, has forwarded his resignation to Washington, the revenues of the office not being sufficient to justify him in giving it his whole time, as he has done for nearly two years, in the hope of better results. A numerously-signed petition is being circulated praying for the appointment of Granville Spurgeon, in whose favor Mr. Chilton resigns.” (L.A. Times, 4-8-1887) Spurgeon was the brother of town founder W.H. Spurgeon, and joined his brother here in the early 1870s. He died of tuberculosis in 1901 at age 58, after several years of failing health. “Together with his brother, W.H. Spurgeon, the ‘father of Santa Ana,’ deceased was for many years engaged in the mercantile business here. Up to the time of his death he was interested in several business enterprises here, and was the owner of considerable valuable business and residence property in the city.” (Times, 8-8-1901)
Walter B. Tedford, 1888-1890
Walter Tedford came to this area with his family as a boy in 1868, settling originally in Gospel Swamp. He had previously served as the postmaster of the Newport Post Office there. He moved to Santa Ana about the time he took the post office job. Over the years he was an officer with several of the local banks, and was considered “one of the best known men about Santa Ana.” He died in 1940 at age 86.
John T. Nourse, 1890-1894
“The appointment of John T. Nourse, of Santa Ana, as postmaster, to take the place of the present popular postmaster, Walter B. Tedford, as announced by last night’s telegram, is a matter of great surprise to the citizens of Santa Ana. The term for which Postmaster Tedford was appointed is over a year short of expiration, and the remonstrance sent up to Washington when his removal was broached some months since proved conclusively that the entire community – if we except a few who can see no good in an honest official if he happens to think contrary to them in politics – earnestly desired to have him retained. Mr. Nourse is a veteran, a member of Sedgwick Post, G.A.R., and a life-long Republican, and these facts had great weight in securing his appointment.” (Santa Ana Blade, 5-1-1890) Nourse was another Republican Civil War vet. When President Benjamin Harrison visited Santa Ana in 1891 he was the Grand Marshal of the reception. He later served as secretary of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce and as city judge. He died in 1933, age 88. His son, John T. Nourse, Jr., was a judge on the District Court of Appeals for many years.
Henry A. Peabody, 1894-1898
Henry Peabody first came to California in 1857 and published newspapers in Sonoma, Visalia, and Ukiah before coming south. He had been editor of the Santa Ana Blade before receiving the postmaster appointment. “[T]he plum was placed in the hands of Mr. Peabody. The appointment gives general satisfaction, the appointee being very popular among the masses.” (L.A. Times, 5-7-1894) “Both Republicans and Democrats are pleased to know that the post office will be in good hands for the next four years.” (Times, 5-29-94) A Democrat, he came in with Grover Cleveland, but by the time his four-year term was up, William McKinley was in the White House and he was out a job. He soon moved to Newport Beach, where he once again became postmaster. He died in 1915, at age 78. “Mr. Peabody was a man of the most sterling qualities, of strong convictions and a Jefferson democrat of the purest type.” (Ukiah Dispatch Democrat, 6-4-1915)
Thomas J. Alexander, 1898-1902
Thomas Jefferson Alexander had been a resident of Santa Ana for eleven years before receiving the appointment as postmaster. “He is well acquainted with post office work, having served for ten years as a railway postal clerk on the Lake Erie and Western Railway before he came to Santa Ana. He served as a deputy in the office here under John T. Nourse, and for a while was in that capacity with Mr. Peabody, the present incumbent. Mr. Alexander has been a life-long Republican, is a member of the G.A.R., and is a personal friend of First Assistant Postmaster General Perry S. Heath.” (L.A. Times, 6-22-1898) Early in his tenure, city delivery was begun. When he died in 1917, at age 76, the Santa Ana Register reported: “Mr. Alexander was long a well known resident of this city. Thirty years ago he came here, and while he has developed and sold several ranches while here he was also for a number of years connected with the Santa Ana post office. He was assistant postmaster under Postmaster Nourse and H.A. Peabody, and in 1898 he was appointed postmaster.” (8-2-1917)
Linn L. Shaw, 1902-1915
T.J. Alexander had just edged out Linn Shaw for postmaster in 1898, and as the end of his four-year appointment approached, Shaw decided to go after the job again. “It can now be definitely stated that Santa Ana has a new candidate for the post office who promises to become a strong factor in the race when the proper time comes for the post office matter to be considered. The new aspirant for honors is Linn L. Shaw, editor and publisher of the Orange County Herald. When seen today by the Times correspondent Mr. Shaw stated that he had concluded to become a candidate for the post office, but he did not intend at this time to get out a petition and have it circulated for signatures; that when the proper time came he would send his application to Washington, where it would be considered, together with others that would no doubt be received.” (L.A. Times, 2-25-1897) But Alexander did not intend to give up so easily. “The fight for the post office here is waxing warm, as the time for the appointment to be made grows nearer. Linn L. Shaw, one of the candidates, is in Washington, working to secure the plum, while T.J. Alexander, the other candidate, is making strenuous efforts in his own behalf at this end.” (Times, 5-20-1898) Shaw (1866-1937) had been city editor of the Santa Ana Blade as early as 1888, bought a half-interest in the Herald in 1893, became the sole owner in 1896, and converted the paper into a daily before selling out to the Blade in 1903. When he retired from the post office he went into real estate, and also served on the original Orange County Harbor Commission from 1915 to 1923. On his death, the Santa Ana Register noted: “Mr. Shaw was one of the pioneer and consistent boosters of the city and ever was doing his part for civic betterment, both as an editor and citizen.” (6-21-1937)
Charles D. Overshiner, 1915-1924
The next in the line of newspaper editors-turned-postmasters in Santa Ana was Charles D. Overshiner, the editor of the Santa Ana Bulletin. A “staunch Democrat” and chairman of the County Democratic Central Committee, he had no problem getting the committee’s recommendation. “That Overshiner was the choice of the powers that be has been known for months, and now that the end of the term of the present postmaster, Linn L. Shaw, is about up no time is to be wasted about getting the new man on to the job.” He “did faithful and efficient work” for the Central Committee, “received the unanimous endorsement of the committee for the appointment, and had the backing of Congressman Kettner. He had no opposing aspirant.” (Register, 1-9-1915) Overshiner continued to own a half-interest in the Bulletin throughout his term as postmaster. He was still living in Santa Ana as late as 1944.
Terry E. Stephenson, 1924-1935
Terry Stephenson (1880-1943) came to the area as a boy, graduated from Santa Ana High School and Stanford University, and for more than 20 years served as editor of the Santa Ana Register. A major force in Republican politics in Orange County, he began angling for the postmastership as soon as Warren Harding was elected, but had to wait until C.D. Overshiner’s term was up. With the sale of the Register in 1927, the post office became Stephenson’s primary job, which he held until 1935, when he was appointed County Treasurer, the position he held until his death. He is best remembered today as the leading Orange County historian of his generation, and the author of such classic books as Caminos Viejos (1930) and Shadows of Old Saddleback (1931).
Frank R. Harwood, 1935-1959
Terry Stephenson’s resignation in 1935 cleared the way for a Democratic postmaster, and Frank Harwood beat out the crowded field. He was a local real estate agent, served on the Democratic Central Committee, and had run unsuccessfully for State Assembly in 1932 (losing to Republican Jimmy Utt). He served as postmaster until his death in 1959 at age 56.
Novel B. James, 1959-1961
Novel James was named acting postmaster following Frank Harwood’s death, but never received a full appointment. At the time he was working for the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce. He became executive vice president of the Santa Ana Board of Realtors when he left office and later ran the Costa Mesa Country Club.
Hector G. Godinez, 1961-1976
Hector Godinez (1924-1999) was born in San Diego, raised in Santa Ana, and went to work for the Santa Ana Post Office in 1946 after graduating from Santa Ana High School and serving in World War II. He was active with LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens), an important civil rights advocate group, serving as national president in 1960-61. He always saw his appointment as postmaster as evidence of how timers were changing. When he was a young man, he recalled, “My ambition was throttled. My opportunity was nil. The only future I had was in truck farming, or picking oranges.” (Long Beach Independent, 1-6-1964) After fifteen years with the Santa Ana Post Office, he was appointed district manager for Southern California, directing 225 local post offices and more than 40,000 employees. He retired in 1992. Hector Godinez Fundamental High School in Santa Ana was named in his honor in 2007.
(Godinez’s Wikipedia page currently lists him both as “a founder” of LULAC – which actually began in Texas in 1929 – and “the first Mexican-American postmaster in the United States.” In fact he was not even the first in Orange County – but what do you expect from the Wikipedia?)
(You can find more about Orange County’s post offices and postmasters here)