Saturday, January 5, 2019

Silver City Merchant and Postmaster M. M. Getchell [otd 1/5]

Meserve Getchell.
Directory of Owyhee County.
On January 5, 1868, Postmaster Meserve M. Getchell was born in Baring, Maine, on the Canadian border and perhaps 25 miles inland from the Bay of Fundy. Mr. Getchell had a distinguished ancestry: his great-grandfather fought in the American Revolution and his mother was a Mayflower descendant.

He grew up on a farm, then found work in a sawmill as a teenager. Wanting something better, he clerked for a short while, then moved south into New Hampshire. After less than a year of working in a shoe factory, he decided to head west.

Getchell arrived in Silver City during the summer of 1889. By then, both mining and stock raising drove the economy of Owyhee County; Silver City was a thriving community. Meserve landed a job as a clerk in the drug store and also assisted an uncle at the post office. Late that year, the uncle bought the Idaho Hotel and Getchell took a position as clerk there.

Around 1892-1893, Meserve herded sheep on range north of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. (Records don’t say, but it’s possible Getchell’s uncle received a flock in the transaction for the hotel.) He then returned to Silver City and worked in a mill while also helping out at his uncle’s hotel.

In late 1893, Meserve received a temporary appointment to fill the postmaster’s position in Silver City. The following year, President Grover Cleveland made the appointment official for a full term. Meserve had clearly done a fine job: Cleveland, a Democrat, would not ordinarily appoint a staunch Republican to such a position. (Meserve later served as chairman of the Republican Central Committee for Owyhee County.)
Silver City Post Office, Courthouse next door.
Directory of Owyhee County.
Not content with just the postal business, Getchell stocked his shop with candy, tobacco products, stationery, and other notions. He also hired his younger brother Asher to help with the operation. In 1897, President William McKinley, a Republican, appointed Meserve for another term as postmaster

The following year, Meserve also became part owner of the Idaho Hotel. He had to find new help at the post office shop, since Asher went to work in the drug store. In fact, Asher remained in the drugstore business for over thirty years, including stays in Boise City and then Twin Falls.

Meserve married in 1891, but their one child died in 1893 and his wife passed away four years later. He remarried in 1898. Mining around Silver City peaked about 1900 and then began a steady decline. (Most of the mines would be closed by 1912.)

In late 1905, Meserve received a surprise. Another Silver City businessman had politicked behind the scenes to block Getchell’s reappointment as postmaster and get the job for himself. The Idaho Statesman observed that all this had happened “before Mr. Getchell knew any one was after his job.”

After the other man was appointed, Meserve sold his store and residence and shortly thereafter moved to Seattle. There, along with his brother-in-law, he invested in a sand and gravel business. Census records show that by 1910 Merserve was the company President, and that he and his wife had made a home for Getchell’s parents.

Getchell remained as President of the sand and gravel business until his death in April 1923, at the fairly early age of 55.
References: [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
“Owyhee County,” Reference Series No. 336, Idaho State Historical Society.


  1. Fortunately, the Getchell store has been well-preserved and serves as a small (private) museum containing numerous artifacts from ca. 1900. A lot of work had been done to the structure of the building to protect it from the heavy winter snow loads. The 2008 annual meeting of the Idaho Token Collectors was in Silver and we were treated to a tour of the Getchell store and the Idaho Hotel.

  2. That's great to hear. I recall having a drink in the Idaho Hotel, but I'm not sure the post office was open the last time we were in Silver City (some years ago now).

  3. My family has owned the home Meserve built for Idaho in Silver City for the past 45+ years. Yesterday marked the 122 anniversary of Idaho's death. My daughters and I placed flowers on her headstone in the town cemetery.