Matamoras Minute: Mail Delivery

Photo provided by Lee Scott. It is doubtful if any of those gathered in this picture in front of the Gene McVey Greyhound bus stop in Matamoras are talking about an excursion onto the Ohio River. However on this wintry day a mail carrier will be doing just that for multiple trips.

We can all appreciate the delivery of mail and the hours necessary to complete the job of dispensing piles of envelopes and packages. But winter has to be the worst season of all in this profession. And complicate that with the conditions in bygone days. In a roaring winter storm, carrying mail back and forth across the Ohio River in a rowboat would be a most unwelcome task.

In Matamoras Harry “Hup” Barnhart made the round-trip crossing the river to Friendly, W.Va seven times each day. That’s because the trains came through that many times in a twenty-four hour period. His cohort in Newport was Floyd Riggs. He would carry the Newport mail across the river to the B&O depot, returning with mail bound for addresses on the Ohio side.

Riggs made a trip that Barnhart knew might just as easily had been his lot. It was Feb. 11, 1910 and the valley was experiencing cold and stormy weather. Ice was in large chunks and a wind made white caps that lapped against the floating hazards. Nearing the center of the river the snow was caught by particularly strong gusts and blizzard conditions developed. Neither side of the river was visible.

Abandoning hopes of a safe landing on the shore Riggs later shared that he turned his attention to preventing the rowboat from capsizing. The wind caused him to lose his bearing as to the direction of the current. Even time escaped his judgement. Wet, near frozen, and exhausted he caught a glimpse of a shoreline. He rolled overboard in a desperate attempt to get to firm ground but he had the presence of mind to cling to the chain that was attached to the rowboat.

Riggs’ feet felt the bottom as his soaked pants and shoes were pulled downward. He staggered to the shore to discover that he had traveled all the way to Marietta in the ordeal.

For those knowledgeable of the area Riggs was reared at Vaucluse, W.Va. which is located about a mile below St. Marys on the river. It was originally the termination point for an old highway that ran from Baltimore, Md. to the Ohio River.

Next week we return to Matamoras’ mailman, Harry Barnhart.


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