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Massena Post Office now home for historic postmaster appointment letter

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MASSENA - A treasure that was found at the Massena Museum is now hanging on the wall of the U.S. Post Office in Massena.

Massena Historian MaryEllen Casselman, Archivist Linda McDonald, Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray and members of the museum board presented current Massena Postmaster Allan J. LaValley with a pristine letter from the postmaster general, appointing Dr. Melvin J. Stearns as Massena’s postmaster effective Jan. 14, 1898. Dr. Stearns held the position for 12 years.

“What a wonderful piece of history for the Massena Post Office,” said Mr. LaValley, who has served as Massena’s postmaster since his appointment in October 2012.

The framed letter now hangs on a wall at the local post office, while historic photos Mr. LaValley had found hang on another.

“I found photographs of the construction of this building,” he said.

Ms. Casselman found the copy of his letter to appointment at the museum and decided it would be a perfect fit to hang on the walls of the Massena Post Office.

“I felt like it really belonged here,” she said.

Dr. Stearns, who was born on Oct. 5, 1843 in Massena Center and died in 1931 at the age of 87, wasn’t always a postmaster, according to Ms. Casselman.

He studied medicine in Chicago and graduated in 1880, before beginning his practice in Massena. On July 24, 1862, he enlisted in Company M. 106th Regiment, New York Volunteers, for service in the Civil War. He served as a first sergeant of his company and quartermaster of his regiment. Dr. Stearns returned to Massena after the close of the war as a first lieutenant in command of his old company.

He was twice wounded during the war, with one of them so serious that it was three months before he was able to return to duty. He was mustered out of the service on June 22,1865.

“He came home from the Civil War and became a doctor through the end of his life,” Ms. Casselman said.

He married Mary Lucinda Staplin of Gouverneur on Sept. 2, 1865 and they, along with other Massena residents, moved to Iowa. The town where they resided in Iowa was later named Massena.

Dr. Stearns and his family returned to Massena in 1881, and Ms. Casselman said he became an active member of the community. He was postmaster for 12 years, a member of the town board for eight years and a member of the local school board for several years.

“He was postmaster when they moved into the town hall,” she said.

Previously, she said, the post office had been located in the “central building” on the corner of Andrews and Main streets, which currently serves as a gym.

Dr. Stearns, a Republican who cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln for president in 1864, was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, U.S. Navy, Marines and Revenue Cutter Service who served in the Civil War.

“At the time of his death, there were only four members left,” Ms. Casselman said.

He is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery.

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