Stop 68: The 1882 Dade City Post Office
The Dade City postal service has a noble history!
Dubbed the Sargent Marcus Mathes Post Office in 2008, it has a history of growth that mirrored the frontier town as it grew into the magnificent antebellum power base of Pasco County as county seat and surrounding community with some incredible milestones of service and honor!
Early post offices in frontier Florida were typically housed in the home of the postmaster which was the case of the first postmaster, Minza G. Rowe, a farmer, who managed the post office in his home from 1882 to 1884.
As the village of Fort Dade moved south to accommodate beginning development and the railroad’s move into town, residents applied for a new post office for what was Dade City. The county seat was then Brooksville and mail service was delivered via horseback, sometimes once per week.
When Pasco County was established on June 2, 1887, the postmaster was Felix P. McElroy and like several of the postmasters, he served other towns in Florida over time as postmaster. In 1893, Reuben M. Wilson served as postmaster in an office on Meridian Avenue, sandwiched beside Coleman & Ferguson Mercantile, in the location which later housed the Bakery of Dade City owned by Roy Guymon and later, Harry Tipton. The Bank of Pasco provided a place for the post office in a small room in the northwest corner of the bank building from 1908 until 1950. In 1950 Wendell V. Gilbert moved into a 3,290 space with a 60 feet frontage on 7th Street and Pineapple Avenue in the Highlands Motor Company complex. Perhaps over time we will identify all of the locations of the post office in its years of service.
Looking over the postmasters of Dade City, most had service records of two to four years with the exception of Hettie Belle Spencer, Wendell V. Gilbert, Wayne R. Dickerson, Jack M. Mixon, and Jeffrey L. Alston. The spoils system in which postmasters were appointed based upon political party of course influenced some abrupt changes. Noteworthy of course is Hettie Belle Spencer, the only woman to have served as a postmaster in Dade City. Her service totaled 34 years with 28 as postmaster. She had commissions from Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. Between her appointments she operated as either an acting or assistant postmaster.
Great ceremony occurred in 1956 when the post office building was built and dedicated. The United States Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield traveled from DC and along with dignitaries attending from surrounding communities. There were a host of community festivities as the official building was unveiled. Dade City postmaster during this period was Major Wayne R. Dickerson who had served as an officer in World War I and World War II and worked extensively in the National Chamber of Commerce program around the country before moving to Dade City in 1949. Dickerson was an outspoken advisor in the community on postal affairs as well as governmental issues.
Perhaps one of the most colorful and heroic stories of the Dade City Post office is the 1970 kidnapping and abduction of Postmaster Alton Parker “Red” Smith who was kidnapped from his home and forced to open the safe at the post office. The postmaster general sent accolades to Smith and Dade City for Smith’s heroism, and Margaret Angel recalled that when the case came to trial months later, even the trial was lively!
Jeffrey Alston, a 1970 graduate of Pasco High began working for the post office at age 20 and was named Dade City Post Master at age 31, one of the youngest appointments in the city’s history.
On March 15, 2010, the 1956 post office building still used in 2023, was named for Sergeant Marcus C. Mathes, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and lost his life during a rocket attack on April 28, 2008 in Baghdad. U.S. Representative Ginny Brown-Wait sponsored H.R. 1516 which passed to designate the facility of the U.S. Postal Service at 37926 Church Street as the Sergeant Marcus Mathes Post Office. This represents a legacy of service as exemplified by the military personnel and postal service in Dade City who paralleled and greatly influenced the developing county seat and Dade City community.
See list of postmasters at: Postmasters by City – Postmaster Finder – Who we are – About.usps.com