Updated: Jun 19, 2019
Postmaster John Van Zandt
In 1866, John became a general merchant and village postmaster when he bought the store in Blawenburg from Cornelius Stryker, the builder and longtime owner of the store. He held the position of postmaster for 69 years – far longer than any other postmaster in the village and the second longest of any postmaster in US history.
His story is best told by someone who knew him well, his daughter Katherine Van Zandt. She was a teacher and poet. We will share more about her in a future blog.
The following is Katherine’s story of John’s success as America’s longest serving postmaster at the time and how he shook the hand of three presidents of the United States. Katherine wrote her story in 1931, after John’s second trip to Washington.
Postmaster Longest in Continuous Service
By Katherine Van Zandt
In the little village of Blawenburgh, so called by its first settlers of Holland Dutch descent, lives this man, who the United States government is declaring its “postmaster oldest in term of service.”
All of his life of eighty-seven years has been spent in this quiet village. This may have a sound of monotony to you who have traveled from country to town – from town to city – seeking other and better occupations. But not so to the “oldest postmaster.” His has ever been a happy life, for he enjoys life’s good things to the full and takes pleasure in passing cheer on to others. His sense of humor helps to stimulate contentment and happiness.
Psychologists teach us that through right feelings, or healthy minds, we gain healthy bodies. This theory proves itself in the postmaster’s life, for, though slight of build, he is always well; and, so far as he recalls, has never failed in his post office duties because of illness.
His early boyhood days were spent on a farm. Born in 1844, from that time until 1865 he lived with his parents on a large farm just out of the village. He attended school in “the little red school house” of Blawenburgh as much as he could be spared in those days. For it must be known that he was the oldest of seven sons and one daughter. Farm life needs many helping hands. John, this oldest son, must drive the team many miles to the mill, and on other errands at a very young age. He recalls that when a boy but eleven, he and his next younger brother, each driving a team of mules, were sent to a lumber yard eighteen miles distant. Many times, this trip was made to bring lumber for the new home which was being built. The brick for the construction was made on the farm, the clay being dug from a home clay-pit and baked in a homemade kiln. (This new home was the James Van Zandt mansion, now the SAVE animal shelter.