Special Deliveries

The Walworth, known also as the U.S. Mailboat
Lake Geneva Cruise Line
Mail carriers are always in the swim of things in Lake Geneva, Wis., because they travel their delivery routes by boat. Every piece of mail arrives by special delivery.

CBS News Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist reports they've been doing it that way since 1873. He says it's a treasured tradition that could almost pass for a love letter.

Or an old postcard come to life, as a steam yacht known as the Walworth II, which also serves as the mailboat, slips across the clear, sparkling waters of the lake.

Geist says people in the town still enjoy the same simple pleasures they always have, in a timeless place where the arrival of summer is announced by the first mailboat.

Residents such as Jim and Darrell Riley set their calendars by it.

"The mailboats start the beginning of the season of the summer," Darrell says, "and it's always a very sad day when it's the last day the paper is delivered, 'cause that means it's September and its time to go back to the city."

Bill Gage owns and operates the mailboat, as his father and grandfather did before him.

"The mail started right at the beginning in 1873," he says, "but they were delivering groceries and furniture and everything else along with the mail. …The mail had to be delivered by water, just because there wasn't a decent road system around the lake until the 1920s, and people who owned homes on the lake literally came back and forth to their houses by boat … and the tradition has continued ever since."

Martha Craven loves the tradition, but remembers the necessity: "There was a time during the war when everyone really counted on the mailboat. We didn't have TV and computers and all of that, so everyone would gather to meet the mailboat. And then, of course, the newspapers would be spread on the lawn, and the letters, hoping to get one from (troops). All the young men were gone. This was a community of grandpas, kids, and moms. So, the mailboat was that one big link to the rest of the world."