Rural Routes in Porter County, Indiana

Have you ever seen a postcard or letter addressed like this?

Postcard from Kate (Marquart) Casbon to her younger sister Mary Jane “Dot” (Marquart) Dye, May 1913; the postcard mentions Kate’s three sons, Leslie, Lynnet, and Loring, and two of Kate and Mary Jane’s brothers, George and Ed; author’s collection (Click on image to enlarge)

The address is written as “Hebron R.3. Ind.,” meaning Hebron (Indiana) rural route 3. The abbreviations “R.R.” for Rural Route and “R.F.D.” for Rural Free Delivery will be familiar to many. I’m sure that many of my Casbon relatives grew up on rural routes. I was familiar with the abbreviations but didn’t really have a clear concept of what they stood for.

As I dug deeper, I learned that rural routes have an interesting history. Up until 1896, free home delivery of the mail was limited to cities. Farmers and others who lived in the country and even people who lived in towns had to go to the nearest post office to pick up their mail. There were many subsidiary, or “fourth-class” post offices, located in towns or more remote outposts. These usually were part of an existing business establishment such as a general store or sometimes even a private home.[1] Rural Free Delivery was started on an experimental basis in 1896, with routes determined by postal inspectors. “A number of factors went into an inspector’s decision, such as creating routes so that carriers did not end up using the same road twice in the same day, each route had to reach at least 100 families, and the roads had to be passible throughout the year.”[2]

Rural Free Delivery was instituted throughout the United States by law in 1902. Routes were developed and “country people” began to receive their mail in mailboxes located along the routes. Many of the fourth-class post offices were no longer needed and closed down.

In Porter County, Indiana, numbered Rural Routes originated at the post offices in Chesterton (four routes), Hebron (four routes), Valparaiso (eight routes), and Kouts (two routes). These routes provided effective coverage of the entire county. Mailing addresses simply listed the post office, route number, and state.

As I said, I did not have a clear understanding of what these routes looked like. I thought they might refer to specific roads, or perhaps districts. In fact, they were circuitous pathways that sometimes looped or doubled back. They look more like urban bus routes to me than anything else.

I was lucky to find a map of Porter County routes in 1911.[3] A portion of the map is shown below. I have color-coded certain routes where various Casbon relatives lived at the time.

”Map of Porter County, Indiana showing rural delivery service” (1911), with certain routes drawn over and color-coded (Click on image to enlarge)

Here are the Casbon relatives who lived on these routes in 1911:[4]

  • Valparaiso Route 2: Hiram and Lodema (Casbon) Church
  • Valparaiso Route 5: Benjamin and Alice (Casbon) Edwards
  • Valparaiso Route 6: Jesse Casbon, Thomas S. Casbon
  • Valparaiso Route 7: Charles P. Casbon, Lawrence L. Casbon
  • Hebron Route 3: Amos (misspelled as “Anas”) Casbon, John and Cora (Casbon) Sams
Detail from Bumstead’s Valparaiso City and Porter County Business Directory Including Rural Routes (1911), showing entries for Casbon along rural routes (Click on image to enlarge)

As you can see, Rural Route addresses don’t provide an exact location as do modern street addresses. Most Rural Routes have now been replaced with street addresses. I believe that numbered Rural Routes continued to be used in Porter County until the early 1990s.

I found this short video about Rural Routes on YouTube.

Do any of my readers remember their R.R or R.F.D. addresses?


[1] United States Postal Service (USPS), “Rural and Urban Origins of the U.S. Postal Service,” report no. RISC-WP-19-007, p. 6; PDF download, USPS Office of Inspector General (https://www.uspsoig.gov/document/rural-and-urban-origins-us-postal-service : accessed 3 Sep 20).
2] “Rural Free Delivery,” Smithsonian National Postal Museum (https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibition/behind-the-badge-postal-inspection-service-duties-and-history-history/rural-free-delivery : accessed 3 Sep 20).
[3] United States, Post Office Department, ”Map of Porter County, Indiana showing rural delivery service” (1911); imaged at “Indiana State Library Map Collection,” Indiana State Library Digital Collections (http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15078coll8 : accessed 1 Sep 20) >Porter.
[4] Bumstead’s Valparaiso City and Porter County Business Directory Including Rural Routes (Chicago: Bumstead & Co., 1911), p. 378; imaged as “U.S. City Directoriies, 1822-1995,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/2469 : accessed 3 Sep 20) >Indiana >Valparaiso >1911 >Valparaiso, Indiana, City Directory, 1911.

3 thoughts on “Rural Routes in Porter County, Indiana”

  1. I really enjoyed this brief history of Rural Free Delivery, including the video. When I was a kid, we always lived in town, and I remember being jealous of the people on farms who got their mail delivered to their houses through RFD while we had to go to the Post Office to get ours.

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