James Porter Allen tallest U.S. mail carrier in 1901
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
When 30-year-old James Porter Allen of Hannibal accepted a position as substitute letter carrier in 1901, the tailors at a uniform company went to work in order to provide him with appropriate attire.
The Palmyra Spectator reported on June 5, 1901, that Mr. Allen had received correspondence back from the uniform company.
He measured, in stocking feet, 6 foot 5 inches, “and he has been informed … that he is the tallest mail carrier in the employ of the government.”
A typical male of that era was 5-foot-6 inches tall. By the year 2000, the average height had gone up to 5-foot-10.
Arriving in Hannibal
James Porter Allen first moved from his native Michigan to Hannibal around 1888 when in his late teens. His father, Rev. Abram Barker Allen, was called to replace the Rev. S.P. Dunlap as minister of the Pilgrim Congregational Church, located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Fifth.
The congregation itself had undergone quite a turmoil in its recent past, rocked by scandal involving some of Hannibal’s most noteworthy citizens. The grand structure which had been built at Sixth and Lyon for a cost of between $75,000 and $100,000 had been sold to the Catholics in 1880 for $16,000. A new church building, constructed in 1881 on a lot at Fifth and Broadway - with plans to add on to the north in the future - was deemed too small from the start. Yet another construction project was undertaken in 1891, during Rev. Allen’s pastorate in Hannibal.
Rev. Allen would oversee the congregation’s move to a newly constructed church venue by 1892. (This building is still standing on Broadway, the northwest corner of 11th Street.)
In 1892, about the time the new church was completed, the Allen family moved to 1048 Broadway, just a block west of the newly constructed church. The oldest son, J. Porter, was working as a printer at the time, and his younger brother, Albert M. Allen, was employed as a night mailing clerk at the Post Office, Sixth and Broadway.
By mid 1890s records of the family’s presence in Hannibal diminished.
Back in Hannibal
At the turn of the century, James Porter Allen was back in town, this time with a wife, the former Ida Woolen of Pike County, Ill. He worked for the railroads for a time, in addition to his stint as a substitute mail carrier.
They lived first at the intersection of Hope and Willow, and later on Hannibal’s South Side.
Possibly lured by the fledgling automobile industry, James Porter Allen and his wife moved to Detroit, Michigan, where their son, Albert B. Allen was born circa 1905. They were joined in Michigan by Ida’s widowed mother, Eliza W. Wooley, who lived with them until her death in 1923.
Meanwhile, The Rev. Abram B. Allen, his wife Henrietta and son Albert M. Allen moved to Ohio. Mrs. Allen got a job as superintendent for the Clara Tank Home for Missionary Children, located at 110 East College Street, near Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Rev. Allen, who attended Oberlin College in 1864-65, was a noted orator of the era, and continued his work as minister of the gospel.
James Porter Allen’s brother, Albert M. Allen, became an architect of note in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio. By 1910, Rev. and Mrs. Allen were living with Albert’s large family.
In January 1935, James Porter Allen was struck by an automobile in Detroit, sustaining fractured vertebrae. He died at his home, 2910 Trumble Ave., Detroit, at the age of 63.
At the time of his death, he was employed as an inspector for the Dodge Brothers Corp.
Rev. Abram Barker Allen died in 1914, at the age of 79. His mother in law, Eliza W. Wooley, whose husband Charles Wooley had served during the Civil War, died Feb. 12, 1923, in Detroit.
Albert Miller Allen died Oct. 20, 1952, in Seattle, Wash.
Note: Henrietta Allen was stepmother to James Porter and Albert Miller Allen. their birth mother, Anna Maria Miller Allen, died in 1872 at the age of 28.
James and Albert had a younger half brother, Benjamin F. Allen, who was working as a Washington correspondent for the Cleveland Plain Dealer in mid September, 1919, when he was killed in an automobile accident while accompanying President Wilson’s entourage at Portland, Ore.
Did extreme height run in James Porter Allen’s family, or was his height an anomaly? That’s somewhat difficult to tell, as no other mentions of height in his family were discovered during research. It is known, however, that his son, Albert B. Allen, stood at 5-foot-6 at the time of his enrollment for the military draft prior to World War II, and at the same time, James Porter Allen’s grandson was 5-foot-9 1/2 inches, and his nephew, Philip Torrens Allen, was 5-foot-11.
Note: A huge victory came for U.S. Postal Workers in 1901, when they were permitted to wear a shirt sans jacket on hot days. As long as their shirts were kept neat and worn with tie and belt, letter carriers could do their work with a far greater degree of comfort. Source: The Evolution of US Postal Service Uniforms by Albert Muzquiz.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com