One hundred years ago, on May 5, 1899, Silver Spring became more than just a whistle stop on the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. On that date, President William McKinley appointed Gist Blair as postmaster of the new Silver Spring, MD post office. Blair was the son of Montgomery Blair, postmaster general in the cabinet of President Abraham Lincoln, and grandson of Francis Preston Blair, founder of Silver Spring in 1840.
With that appointment, an individual could mail a letter (at a cost of 2 cents) addressed to a destination in "Silver Spring, Maryland" and it would be delivered to the post office where the recipient could pick it up. Before then, people living in the vicinity of the 1878 Silver Spring B&O train station (located on the site of today's 1945 B&O station at 8100 Georgia Avenue) would have to travel up Washington & Brookeville Turnpike (Georgia Ave.) to where it intersected with the Washington, Colesvlle & Ashton Turnpike (Colesville Road). There they could pick up their mail at the Sligo, Maryland Post Office. "Why, that's only a few blocks," you are probably saying. Allow Gist Blair to explain, as he did before the members of Washington D.C.'s Columbia Historical Society in 1917.
"When I returned from St. Louis to settle in Maryland in 1897, Silver Spring was a cross-roads without inhabitants. A tollgate existed...north of the staton on the B&O Railroad, charging tolls to those who lived south of it for obtaining their mail. Rural free delivery did not then exist, so I circulated a petition for a post office for the district south of the tollgate and the office of Silver Spring was named and established near the station. The office was kept in existence only by constant fighting, because it interfered seriously with Sligo, a quarter of a mile away, and just north of the tollgate, the receipts for that office then depending on the number of letters mailed and cancelled there. In 1900 the postmaster at Sligo succeeded in having the Silver Spring post office discontinuted, but I secured a further hearing, and had the order discontinuing it rescinded."
The tollgate was located on the west side of Georgia Ave., about where Ellsworth Drive intersects. Travelers using this private toll road paid a fee of two cents per horse and conveyance, as much as mailing a letter. One hundred years later, Silver Spring postal customers pay only 33 cents to mail that same letter, and they do not even have to drive their horse and buggy to pick it up!
Happy 100th birthday to the Silver Spring Post Office and "Thank you" to the men and women who have delivered our mail over the past century!
A special pictoral postmark cancellation in honor of the centennial was created, featuring Gist Blair (Silver Spring's first postmaster) and the former Silver Spring Post Office, built in 1936.
Additionally, a ceremony was held on May 5 that featured remarks by Jerry McCoy (President of the Silver Spring Historical Society), Silver Spring Postmaster Michael Bensing, County Executive Doug Duncan, Senator Ida Ruben, and Delegate Dana Dembrow. Later in the day, Jerry McCoy gave a slide presentation detailing the history of the Silver Spring Post Office.