north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     In 1896, following the initiatives of Postmaster General William L. Wilson, North Carolina developed a Rural Free Delivery (RFD) route for mail. Postal service via RFD included the delivery of all postal items, free of charge, to citizens at their homes, eliminating the need to visit the local post office. The first such route in North Carolina operated from China Grove in Rowan County on October 23, 1896.

     Mail service began in North Carolina in the 1730s as the colonial government extended postal routes through the Carolinas to Charleston. Following the Revolutionary War, there were only four post offices in North Carolina, in the major port cities. By 1851, the number of post offices had increased to nearly 800. North Carolinians had become accustomed to regular postal services, which were operated by the local postmaster who established an office, either in a local public building or in a house, and from there local citizens regularly collected their mail.

     Following Wilson’s proposal during the second administration of President Grover Cleveland, China Grove, a small community near Salisbury, began experimenting with the development of a mail delivery route. Salisbury politician John S. Henderson, a Congressman who served as chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Postroads during the late 1890s, pushed for the experiment in Rowan County. Under the direction of J. Bruner Goodnight, China Grove’s postmaster, a Rural Free Delivery route was established. Goodnight was discouraged at the lack of public interest and commitment to the project, and resigned shortly thereafter.

     In 1896 a new Postmaster, J.C. Deaton, developed two test routes from the China Grove office. Initially only two citizens, C. A. Linn of Landis and Martin Blackwelder of Kannapolis, were willing to accept the service. Local skepticism for the mail delivery stemmed from concerns about theft and reliability. Deaton, with two assistants, canvassed the area around China Grove, pleading for local residents to try the system. The new routes covered approximately eighteen miles in Rowan County, and were slowly expanded as citizen began to trust the RFD system. Although development was slow, today’s postal system derives from the scheme first tested out in North Carolina in China Grove in 1896.

James S. Brawley, The Rowan Story, 1753-1953 (1953)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
(Kannapolis) Daily Independent, September 11, 1988
Bill Sharpe, A New Geography of North Carolina, I (1954)
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:




north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources