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Weekly 150: Graden Featherstone

Postmaster, Historian

By Jason Martin
jmartin@mckenziebanner.com
Posted 2/17/21

Graden Ambus Featherstone was born on April 20, 1908, near the Como community in Weakley County to J.D. and Lena Stoker Featherstone. He was one of four children, Murrell Penick, Lozette Burrow and Ann Harris. The family farmed for many years.

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Weekly 150: Graden Featherstone

Postmaster, Historian

Posted

Graden Ambus Featherstone was born on April 20, 1908, near the Como community in Weakley County to J.D. and Lena Stoker Featherstone. He was one of four children, Murrell Penick, Lozette Burrow and Ann Harris. The family farmed for many years.

The Featherstones moved to McKenzie in 1920. In November of the following year, Graden lost his mother. His father remarried in 1926 to Otis Lemoine Taylor. In the spring of 1927, Graden graduated from McKenzie High School and enrolled at Bethel College. Four years later, he graduated with a degree in science and accepted a job at Eva High School near Camden.

In 1936, he began working for U-Tote ‘Em at the Union City Store. Later that year he received his first civil service appointment. He was assigned to Nashville to work with the Postal Transportation Service. He worked the assignment until 1943 when he was drafted into the United States Navy during World War II.

For a portion of his wartime service, he served as a mail clerk with the Fleet Post Offices stateside and was stationed in the Pacific Theatre ending up at Guadalcanal, one of the largest postal fleet offices. He was discharged from the Navy in December 1945. He returned to Nashville and resumed his position with the Postal Transportation Service.

Graden road the rail for many years perfecting the transportation and delivery of mail. The system he used was the precursor of the ZIP code currently used. The Zoning Improvement Plan (ZIP), started during World War II when the first two numbers were introduced. The initial zoning address system took effect in 1943 when thousands of postal employees left to serve the military during World War II, leaving the system understaffed and in need of simplification.

To start, 124 of the largest US cities were classified with two numbers — the first identifying the city and the second the state. The numbers were intended to make sorting easier for less experienced employees. The postal system implemented the three other numbers 20 years later in 1963, as mail volume grew.

In 1947, he returned to McKenzie to serve as an auxiliary mail carrier. He purchased a used T-Model Ford and restored it to proper working order for his rural delivery routes.

In March 1954, he was appointed Acting Postmaster for McKenzie with the retirement of John Marshall. A few months later, he received the full appointment from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Graden remained Postmaster until his retirement in 1969.

In November 1964, the postal sorting and delivery method he used at Guadalcanal proved invaluable to Graden when McKenzie was selected as one of nine “sectional centers” in Tennessee. Each of Tennessee’s grand divisions would have three sections.

For West Tennessee, it was Memphis, Jackson and McKenzie. The western section received the prefix of 3. McKenzie and the surrounding area picked up 382. Graden reminded those under his direction of the significance of the numerology of 382. The numbers matched the locomotive driven by Casey Jones on the night of his fatal crash on April 30, 1900. Jones collided with the caboose of a stalled freight train that had failed to completely clear the right-of-way near Vaughan, Mississippi.

Graden was a noted lay-historian who penned numerous historical articles about the local area. One series focused on the railroad’s participation in the nation’s mail system. He also wrote about the life of Davy Crockett, who moved to Carroll County in 1822 before the creation of Gibson County.

Governor Buford Ellington asked him to serve on the Historical Commission of the Civil War Centennial. Early in the creation of the Carroll County Historical Society, Graden served as president. Much of his work was placed in the Gordon Browning Museum.

Outside the postal service and historical research, Graden was active in the American Legion, the Rotary Club and the Baptist Church. He was known as a man of strong beliefs and had the character and steadfastness to stand up for those beliefs.

In his later years, Graden took up residence at McKenzie Health Care Center. After a series of strokes and in failing health, he died at age 92 in February 2001. Graden was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

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