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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Then and Now: Spokane’s last post office horses

In 1941, there were 95 mail routes in Spokane and five still used horse-drawn mail carts traveling the city’s streets, including two in the downtown area.

Mail superintendent John O. Wahlstrom said the speed or skill of the horse fleet weren’t in question, but there were other issues. “It is difficult to secure equipment for the horse cart service,” Wahlstrom said. “Then, too, most men nowadays don’t know one end of the horse from the other. Our trials have shown that we can give better and speedier service with motorized equipment.”

As the 1909 federal building at Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street was expanded in 1941, Spokane Postmaster Will W. Sampson suggested it was time to end mail delivery by one-horse carts.

Mail carriers had extolled how patient and well-trained horses could walk their routes with little or no direction, pausing at regular stops and traffic signals on their own.

Although the horse carts were a quaint sight on 20th century streets, there were conflicts with automobiles. In 1940, Ivan B. Royal, 60, one of the last horse deliverymen, was driving his cart north on Monroe Street when he was was struck from behind by a car. Royal limped to a nearby police station for first aid, then was taken home by police car.

Royal had joined the postal service in 1901 in Minneapolis, coming to Spokane in 1908. “Mr. Royal was one of the most faithful employees of the Spokane post office,” Sampson said at Royal’s retirement in 1943.

The downtown horse fleet was supplied by Falls City Livery Stables at 1020 W. College Ave., one of the last liveries in town. The stables were torn down in 1955.

In July 1941, Sampson made the official order to discontinue the last two horse carts in the downtown area. The last suburban mail routes served by horses were in the areas of Vinegar Flats and Minnehaha and ended in late June 1942.

Wahlstrom said horses had been used for mail delivery in Spokane since 1889.

One of the last postal horse cart drivers in our region was Harold Van Horne, who joined the post office and drove horse cart in Spokane starting 1936. Van Horne was also a businessman and later served as postmaster in Elk until 1972. He died in 2004.