The Santee Post Office
BY HARRIETTE M WADE – JULY 24, 1985
(Please note that the opinions expressed in this editorial and history of Santee are the opinions of the writer – Harriette M Wade, and not that of the Santee Historical Society)
In the beginning-•Santee first became Cowles’ Town, Cowleston or Cowles Station on the San Diego Cuyamaca and Eastern (SDC&E) Railroad. Named for the largest land owner George A. Cowles (Kohls), it remained Cowleston from 1878 to 1893. In 1888 Cowles passed away and his widow Jennie B. Cowles retained his land. In 1891 Jennie B. married Milton Santee, a surveyor, realtor, and• attorney. She requested from the US Postal Department the name of Santee for the community. Because no other name had ever been requested from the postal department, the name of Santee was granted July 17, 1891. By a vote of the residents, two years later, everything in Cowleston was changed to Santee except the large mountain at the southwest end of Santee Valley. It continues to bear the name Cowles Mountain.
A small grocery store on Magnolia just south of Mission Gorge Road (first called Cowles Avenue, then Mission Avenue) accepted mail for distribution. The grocery store, owned by Thomas Netting and later by Fred A. Barrett, was purchased by Franklin B. Holder in 1910. He pivoted the building around to face Mission Avenue and built a grocery store across the street on the south side. He named his store Holder’s Cash and Carry and. later, The Last Frontier Store. The south end of the new building was prepared for the post office. Holder moved the post office boxes in a wheelbarrow across Mission Avenue to their new home.
Holder made additions on the first grocery store building and rented spaces as blacksmith shop, fish market, shoe repairs, barber shop, ceramics, hardware store and others.
When the foot traffic came too great in the Last Frontier grocery store, Holder built a small building just west of the grocery store, about where the library building now stands,(in 1985) facing Mission Gorge Road. It became Santee’s first post office with its very own name. A gala event took place with a stage coach from El Cajon delivering the first mail. The first postmaster to be appointed to the post office by a president of the United States was Lillian Gilbert. She was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her husband, Ralph, became the postal clerk.
In 1949 Holder sold his Last Frontier store to Earl and Marie Malzer who continued to run it as a grocery store until 1959 when it was closed for good.
The new post office was a small affair but seemed extremely large in comparison to the former facilities. There was one little forgotten luxury and that was when nature called, a trip to the grocery store was necessary. The was soon remedied by the addition of a very small bathroom to the new building.
On Gilbert’s retirement, while still in the new building, Chester F. Harritt was appointed postmaster and remained so until his death in July 1965.
In 1956, the post office moved in to the west end of Cameron’s building, 8852 Magnolia, Now known as Hanley’s Steak House. (Editor’s Note – this has been torn down and was to the south of the Chevron station, and to the north of Cameron Mobile Home Park.).
January 15, 1962, the present post office at 10152 Mission Gorge Road was read with about 10 parking spaces. With Santee’s population increase after the completion of the Santee Water District, the formation of ;the sanitation district and the building explosion in Carlton Hills, the pasture to the east of the post office was surface3d to become the present parking lot.
(Editor’s Note – this is what is now known as the “old Post Office”. It is currently home to the San Diego Christian College’s Athletic Department).
Bill Pumphrey was the first rural route driver and soon needed more help so Roger Sherman was hired as the second driver. Many others have come and gone, but some of the first ones were Pat Owens as a clerk in the first post office, Mary Hennis was a clerk at Cameron’s building post office, Olive Weber became a relief driver in 1958 for Pumphrey and then later as a clerk as number six employee. Ella Surdez Espinoza was hired as a clerk in 1962 and Gladys Cosper was employed as a temporary clerk. There were many others – John Poe, who loved the smell of the packages mailed to my aunt because they had Yardley Soap in them so, at Christmas every years, John received a package with Yardley Soap in it and for many years plates of Christmas cookies were taken in to the post office for all the employees to enjoy. The Good Old Days – when your mailman would bring you packages too large for your mailbox to your door and have a Coke are gone. Now you’re lucky if your receive your mail by 5:30 because you’re “at the end of the route”.
July 1965 Chet Harritt passed away and Cyril Pewtress Jr. was sworn in as temporary postmaster and in 1966 another ceremony was held to swear in Cy as permanent postmaster.
July 16, 1966, the 75th anniversary of the Santee Post Office was observed with an anniversary program and open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Refreshments were served courtesy of the Santee Woman’s Club. Pewtress retired as post master the first Friday in January 1982.
March 1982, Lee A Nevis became Santee’s postmaster and as postmaster today. He very kindly gave me most of the following statistics on a usual very busy day.
Former postmasters of Cowleston and Santee from 1887 to 1982 were: Ely Gill, Peres. J Layne Nellie B. Bishop, David L. Stuart, Mathilde Preiss, Thomas Netting, Fred •A. Barrett, Franklin B Holder, Lynda N Brunson, Ruth M Holder, Lillian B. Gilbert, Chester F. Harritt, Cyril E. Pewtress Jr. and the present postmaster, Lee A Nevis.
Postmaster Nevis has had his work cut out for him the past three years with another population explosion but is handling it well. He continues to keep his cool with Santee residents and new employees in too small a facility.
In 1955 there were 3,000 people in Santee; receipts for the fiscal years 1954/1955 were $14,000 and four employees; Receipts during 1963 $87,000; 13,000 residents ; 24 employees. In 1966 there were 10 city delivery routes; two government and eight contract vehicles in service. In 1982 there were 14, 988 business and residential locations. October to October 1983/1984 with a population close to 50,000, there were 17,314 locations, 70 employees, and receipts of $1,371,000, 32 delivery routes, 21 postal vehicles, and the rest served by contract. Today; there are 17,977 locations, 75 employees, 26 routes, and 25 vehicles.
The growth for the Santee Post Office has been very extreme and new employees have been hired and are learning how to cope with the new addresses: many apartments and condos without numbers on the envelopes are proving great challenges.
Each carrier sorts mail for delivery each day, reading about 3,000 plus names and addresses, may with same numbers on different streets. Regular carriers know the numbers, but new employees are still learning and much mail arrives without space numbers in the mobile home parks and all the new apartment complexes. Let your carrier know so he can make corrections. Remember, none of us are walking on water and mistakes are made by all. We were just spoiled for so long and, growing up in :Santee, it’s hard to accept the changing times. Let’s learn, to flow with the time and be a little more patient.
Now the post office building and the parking lot that was once a pasture has been much too small for a couple of years. In the future a new home will be built for the Santee Post Office on at least a five are parcel and plans are that the building will be at least four times as large as the present one.
We’ve come a long way, baby, in such a short time. Imagine riding on your horse to go to the post office getting your mail out of Box # 17 and visiting as you read all the messages on the bulletin board and leaving your own messages.
We’re still small town enough that if you go to the post office on Saturday afternoon, you’d run into at least 10 old friends while you’re visiting with others.
Postmaster Nevis says the new location for the future post office has not been finalized as of July 15 but plans and lots of talking are continuing and he is hoping that the move will take place by July 1987.
July 17, 1985 marked the 94th anniversary for the Santee Post Office. and we have six years before the 100 year anniversary will be celebrated. It’s been a great place for meeting old friends and welcoming new friends to Santee.
The information gleaned by many weeks of research has come from many old friends who have lived and some who are no longer living in Santee. Some of the data is from recollections • “don’t quote me”;”I think” comments, but they add to the story of the Santee Post Office. I am sure there will be those “that know better,” but there has been a great deal of research and phone calls to get as many facts as possible.
For those who have taken the time to help me, I thank you dearly. For those who guard your scrapbooks that never become dear until someone wants to look at them. all the information is available at the various newspapers or through historical societies, it just takes a little longer to look it up – you could have made my time easier. If anyone is attempting to research past history, one of the most valuable places is the California Room at the main San Diego Library.
My heartfelt thanks to all that helped me.
Editor’s note – On July 17, 2016 the Santee Post Office will be 125 years old!!!!