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Brainerd post office’s early years besieged by scandals

The Brainerd post office’s early years were marred by the arrest and incarceration of one of its postmasters, and a daring vault and safe break-in that resulted in the theft of more than $1,000.

Early Brainerd post office interior circa 1915
A man and a woman stand near one another inside the Brainerd post office on the southeast corner of South Sixth and Maple streets circa 1915.<br/>
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society
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BRAINERD — The city of Brainerd celebrated its sesquicentennial anniversary last year, but it was a year before the town’s founding the first post office in Brainerd was established.

The first post office in Brainerd was established in 1870, and Dr. Samuel W. Thayer was appointed postmaster. He served in that position until 1873.

The post office was in Sylvester Sherwood's drugstore at Fifth and Front streets, where the City Hotel was located in the 1890s. Sherwood took over as postmaster after Thayer and served until 1879.

“The Brainerd post office has recently been constituted a money order office … and now you can remit any little or big debts you may happen to owe at a distance; safely and cheaply,” a July 11, 1874, edition of the Brainerd Tribune informed readers.

The proclamation by the publication was perhaps a bit too soon, as it came to be reported the post office was missing thousands of dollars, which resulted in the arrest of Sherwood and his incarceration in St. Paul.

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“Our citizens were pained and shocked on Wednesday afternoon last to learn that our esteemed citizen and postmaster … had been called upon by a special agent of the post office department, who had examined the accounts and placed him under arrest for an alleged deficiency of $3,000,” according to the Aug. 2, 1879, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.

A Pioneer Press reporter subsequently interviewed Sherwood, who was described in an account from that time as “a pleasant, portly, intelligent and well-dressed individual, and from appearances the last man that would be looked for in a prison.”

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“He admitted the deficiency, though to a considerably less sum than $3,000, but how it came about was inexplicable to him. He said the office had been, perhaps, carelessly managed, that its affairs had not been guarded as well as they should,” according to the Aug. 2, 1879, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.

Sherwood obtained $500 from a friend of his, and — with all the property he possessed, valued at about $2,100 — and appeared to have made up the deficit, which he maintained was less than the $3,000 that was first estimated.

“The exposure was an exceedingly unpleasant one, as Mr. S. stood well in the community, and he was at once surrounded by many friends who volunteered to assist him in his trying situation,” according to a Pioneer Press account from the time.

According to the April 24, 1880, edition of the Brainerd Tribune: “The friends of Mr. S. V. R. Sherwood, late postmaster at this place, finally succeeded on Wednesday last in reaching the executive ear at Washington in his behalf, and his pardon was promptly granted. …”

In 1897, the Brainerd post office made headlines again when its vault and safe were broken into and between $1,000 and $1,200 dollars in money and stamps were stolen.

“In the safe, they secured about $425 in money and something over $600 in postage stamps, besides the contents of several registered letters, the amount of which is unknown. After securing the booty they escaped without detection,” according to the Nov. 5, 1897, edition of the Brainerd Dispatch.

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So it did not come as a surprise, however, that after the Sherwood scandal and burglary a proper Brainerd Post Office was eventually built on the southeast corner of Sixth and Maple streets in 1910 at a cost of $50,000, where the post office remained for half of a century.

In 1960, postal facilities were relocated to the southwest corner of Fifth and Laurel streets — where it remains today, kitty-corner to Brainerd City Hall in downtown Brainerd — and the building on Sixth and Maple was demolished for a parking lot two years later.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.

Related Topics: BRAINERD HISTORY
I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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