The Ups and Downs
of the
Sandy Level Post Office

By Herman E. Melton

Sandy Level Depot

Many significant events transpired during the year 1843. That was the year of the birth of President William McKinley. Daniel Webster retired from his job as Secretary of State, and future President Andrew Johnson was elected to Congress during that year. Jefferson Davis, the future President of the Confederacy entered politics for the first time as a delegate to the Democratic State Convention in Jackson, Alabama.

1843 saw important contributions in the world of literature. William Wordsworth became Poet Laureate in England, and his friend, Charles Dickens, created the modern version of Santa Claus when he wrote A Christmas Carol during that same year.

Skiing became a sport in Norway for the first time anywhere, and the famous pathfinder, John C. Fremont, crossed the Rocky Mountains on his way to California. The U.S. Congress appropriated $30,000 and gave it to Samuel F.B. Morse to build the first telegraph line in the world. It ran from Washington to Baltimore. A big loss occurred that year when Noah Webster, who compiled a great dictionary, departed this life.

In the world of politics, an aristocratic Virginian named John Tyler was in the White House, and one James McDowell sat in the Governor's chair in Richmond. The Circuit Court Judge in Pittsylvania County that year was Fleming Saunders. Clark Penn was serving Pittsylvania County in the Virginia Senate, and Coleman Bennett and John Keen were serving as Delegates in the General Assembly.

All these gentlemen were in sympathy with the citizens of the progressive community of Sandy Level, Virginia who petitioned the US Post Office Department to establish a post office in their community in 1843. After all, the closest PO to Sandy Level at that time was probably Berger's Store near present day Toshes. Of course the elected officials supported the petition (for political reasons if no other) but probably the politician who helped the most was Rep. Walter Coles who presented the District encompassing Sandy Level and Pittsylvania County in the U.S. Congress at that time.

Sandy Level people have always been persistent, and their effors bore fruit in 1843 when the U.S. Government founded the Sandy Level Post Office and named George W. Young as its first Postmaster. Sandy Level would have been nothing more than a farming community were it not for geography. The truth is that considerable traffic passed by on some nearby pioneer roads. The old Lou's Island Road crossed Pigg River a mile or so away. A skip and a hop west took Sandy Level citizens to the ancient Monroe Road which crossed the Staunton River at Anthony's Ford. These primitive thoroughfares helped keep Sandy Level alive for decades.

By today's standards, the earnings of Sandy Level's postmasters made it hardly worthwhile, and nobody got rich at the job unless he was one who also operated a country store in tandem. Stores benefitted from the visits of postal patrons. Perhaps Mr. T.C. Berger, who was postmaster during the 1880s, is a good example of one who's compensation was scant. Sandy Level's receipts in 1887 were $174.30. Berger's annual compensation was $87.15 or 1/2 of the proceeds. One could do better raising tobacco even though its price dropped as low as six cents per pound in that decade.

Something good happened at Sandy Level toward the turn of the century that had a profound effect on the economy of the region for several decades afterwards. Mining came to Sandy Level! There was a discovery of barite ore, and the old Thompson Mine opened a couple of miles east of the post office. It was Pittsylvania's first barite (barium sulfate) mine. By 1905, the annual receipts of the Sandy Level Post Office had nearly tripled, and Postmaster J.E. Bennett was pulling down an annual salary of $192. Barite ore was bring $5 per ton, and things were looking up.

Good fortune already had smiled on Sandy Level when the newly formed Franklin and Pittsylvania Railroad located a depot near the post office during the late 1870s. Thousands of tons of ore were shipped out of there along with leaf tobacco lumber and other farm produce. The F&P contributed much to the prosperity, but it was fate that gave the place a niche in history. This materialized when FDR's New Deal built a CCC camp there during the Great Depression. The camp's historical importance was enhanced a few years alter when its facilities were converted into a World War II prisoner of war camp.

Throughout its 153 year history, Sandy Level Post Office had 24 postmasters. It remained open during all of that time except for a three year period from 1854 through 1857 and another three year period during the Reconstruction when it closed in 1866 and reopened in 1869. During the century and a half of its operation, it became a very special institution for residents of Sandy Level. Sometimes it was part of a store which dispensed gasoline for the Model T Fords and general merchandise for farmers, miners and travelers. It became the community center where one could pick up the latest gossip, exchange greetings and maintain contact with the outside world. The building of the giant Smith Mountain Dam nearby on the Staunton River fueled what appeared to be a steady and gradual growth that bode well for Sandy Level's future. What's more, on the horizon appeared the proposed north/south Interstate Highway 73 during the recent 1990s. This thoroughfare is designed to pass east of Rocky Mount in Franklin County and close enough to Sandy Level to give the area a boost.

It was quite natural that the community went into a virtual state of shock when the U.S. Postal Service notified the local office in the fall of 1995 that it was closing its doors right away in the interest of government economy. To Janet Mease, a lifelong resident of Sandy Level, this was incomprehensible and potentially cataclysmic. The post office there was too essential to the life of the community. The gloom that pervaded the community was soon replaced by a bulldog determination that Sandy Level Post Office was not going to the scrap heap of history without a fight.

Mease and her husband, Pat, mobilized the Sandy Levelers into a team that garnered the support of Congressman L. F. Payne of Virginia's 5th District and all county and state officials in Pittsylvania County. Pep rallies and work sessions were the order of the day for months on end as the doors remained locked on the Sandy Level PO.

Mease sought compromise solutions and submitted proposals designed to reopen the office. She took Sandy Level's case to the media, to the churches, and to all local community organizations until most of Sandy Level's residents were involved. Moreover, her fight captured the imagination of a substantial number of citizens in Southside Virginia. As they became aware of the plight of the community, many rallied to its cause. Space does not permit the recounting of the sequence of events that transpired. Suffice it to say that persistence paid off, and finally, Pat and Janet Mease received the good news of the change of heart by the Postal Service. Sandy Level Post Office was back in business. This was welcome news to all Pittsylvania citizens. After all, their county had a total of 110 post offices during its 230 year history with a high of 67 being open at one time. Today that number has dwindled to 13, including Sandy Level.

It is a story with a happy ending, and The Packet is pleased to extend a hearty Macte Virtute: Sandy Level!

Postmasters at Sandy Level 1843-1991


Books by Herman Melton

(Available from the sponsor.)

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Other Books Concerning Pittsylvania County History

(Available from the sponsor.)

History of Pittsylvania County, VA

Clement: History of Pittsylvania County

Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County, VA

Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County

An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County

Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (Dover)

Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina

Tales About People in a Small Town

Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town

Herman Melton's online articles are posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.