Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Phone Company on Every Corner

For many people, the breakup of the American Telegraph and Telephone Co. left a confusing array of telephone companies, even if Jefferson County hadn’t been served by the old Bell System.

But anyone who found the state of telephony competition confusing in the after 1984, would have been baffled by the state of the art in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

It was simpler at the beginning when the first telephone was reportedly installed between the starch works and the railroad depot in 1879. It’ likely that private systems were the only ones operating until a public exchange was opened in Madison. The Madison Courier of Feb. 29, 188 listed subscribers to a proposed system, including City Hall, including City Hall, four fire departments, the city water works, and at least three residences. The exchange, erected by the Laporte and Madison Telephone Co., was scheduled to go into operation on May

In February 1882, the Courier reported work had begun to link Madison with exchanges in Carrollton, Milton, Warsaw and Ghent with Hanover connected sometime later that year. Service also reached Brooksburg and Vevay for the Daily Courier of Sept.13, 1883 noted that, “The Brooksburg Band has celebrated Vevay by telephone.”

By the time the 1887/88 Madison city directory was published, the Central Union Telephone Co., apparently part of the Bell system, had the area’s business.

But things got interesting. The Daily Courier of Nov. 27, 1894 reported local businessmen formed the Madison Telephone Co. because of Central’s rates and at this point, the Central company had 150 subscribers while Madison had 165.

While the Bell companies quashed most competition, things were different in Madison and the Courier of Jan. 17, 1896 reported the city had ordered “that the Bell Telephone Company be directed to remove all phones from the City Building, Light Station, the four engine houses, and Springdale Cemetery.” For several years the companies operated side by side. The Vail Funeral Home, for exampled, advertised its number as 88 for both the Madison and Bell systems.

Meanwhile, service moved into the country with a company owned by the Green Brothers installing the first telephone in Canaan in Lochard and Means’s store on Nov. 1, 1899.

In the fall of 1903, the Madison company extended a line from China to Canaan and other rural changes, probably initiated by the same organization, operated in Hanover and Rykers’ Ridge.

The number of independent companies quickly reached the hundreds for Indiana and thousands across the nation. The Independent Telephone Company of Lancaster and Monroe incorporated on May 23, 1905. In 1907, the Green Brothers sold their operation to Canaan residents, who extended the lines in February. 1908. The Farmers Mutual Telephone Central of Belleview incorporated on March 30, 1912; and the Canaan Mutual Telephone Company on Aug. 25, 1915 (Apparently replacing the Farmers company.).

At one point, there were two systems operating in Canaan, a town whose Main Street is less than a mile long. The Madison company, which eventually discontinued service, was situated in the Banta home and the Farmer’s system in its own headquarters.

This wasn’t area with double service. The San Jacinto and Dupont Telephone Co. incorporated on Feb. 7, 1907 while the New Marion and Dupont Telephone Co. organized on May 2, 1908. Just outside of Madison, the Jefferson Telephone Co. operated from at least 1907 until its merger with Madison Telephone in 1912 because the two were so interconnected.

State reports in 1914 showed seven systems operating in Jefferson County. Madison Telephone had 688 miles of wire while Central Union had 66.43; Lancaster & Monroe 21, and Farmers Mutual, 2. Ohio River Telephone, with only 2 miles in the county, had 523 in neighboring Switzerland County. On the other side, Scott County Telephone had 4.5 miles of line in Jefferson and 242 in Scott while the Madison company owned 12 miles in Clark County.

Other lines edged into the county. The Paris Crossing company had 8 miles and the New Washington Co., 15 in Jefferson County while the Ohio River and Scott County businesses were no longer listed. There were probably others 1930 records showed the Moorefield Farmers Mutual Telephone Co. was headquartered in Brooksburg.

But by this time, small companies were disappearing. The June 28, 1919 Courier reported the Ryker’s Ridge exchange had just closed. The Madison company operated until Sept. 12, 1923 when it was purchased by Southern Indiana Telephone and Telegraph Co. The latter, a Bell operation, petitioned to close the China and Volga exchanges on July 18, 1928.


Nome said...

It is most intriguing that the Springdale Cemetery had a phone...Probably where the Twilight Zone episode "Night Call" occurred...

Bob Scott said...

Actually, it would have been very useful. It would have been for the sexton, I'm sure, and said that person a lot of time.