EARLY PARKERSBURG PHONE SYSTEM
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1249 Gihon Road
Parkersburg WV 26101
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For Early Parkersburg History and Old Pictures
This 1922 Model T Ford truck graphically illustrates the growth and changes in the telephone industry in Parkersburg. One of the earliest C & P Telephone co. service trucks it was driven by repairman Arthur C. Logan pictured here with the rig.
EARLY TELEPHONE PARKERSBURG WV
Incessant ringing of your telephone may irritate you at times, but try to Imagine how long you might keep your "cool" if you had to tap on the instrument with a nail until you got the answering party's attention. That's the way the first two telephones in Parkersburg operated, according to records of the C & P Telephone Co. That was 106 years ago and the "private" phones were owned by O. L. Bradford and M. R. Minchall. The line ran between their two houses located near the old Camden Oil Refinery on the Little Kanawha River.
the telephones were crude instruments with out bells, and when one party wished to signal the other he attempted to attract his attention by tapping on the phone box with a nail. The next telephone line in Parkersburg replaced a telegraph line owned and operated by M. C. Church of the Transportation Oil Co. and operating between the general office in Parkersburg and the oil fields at Volcano. The line served seven telephones which were installed by J. E. Mayhew, one of the pioneer telephone men of West Virginia.
RECORDS INDICATE that prior to these telephones employees of the oil company signaled each other when to turn the flow of oil on or off in the pipe lines by blowing on a conch shell. Telephone service where by subscribers could interchange conversations was first introduced in Parkersburg in 1882. A franchise had been granted to the Central District and Printing Telegraph Co. predecessor of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. of West Virginia at a special meeting of city council and mayor of the city of Parkersburg in October 188l.
The first central office was located on the third floor of a building at 420 Market st. and was placed in service Jan. 1 1882 as one of the first in the country and the second in West Virginia history states. This was only six years after the telephone was Invented in 1876. According to a newspaper account dated Aug. 1 1882 Dudley's Green house the State Journal office Gambrill's Oil Float Savage's Store Stone's Meat Market, Sweetser Oil Co. Refinery, Moosman's Brush Factory and the Sixth Ward Engine House were scheduled to receive telephone service with instruments on order.
exchange was established there were only 250 telephones in service. The first long distance service was established the same year the central office was placed in service. During 1882, J. E. Mayhew constructed a telephone line from Parkersburg to Ravenswood and Ripley in West Virginia, and on to Pomeroy, Ohio. Later that year a line to Wheeling was constructed. The following year a line was built from Parkersburg to Elizabeth, Burning Springs, Creston' and Grantsville in West Virginia.
after the construction of these lines there was no marked activity in the building of long distance lines for several years. In 1896 the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. constructed a line from Cambrtdge, Ohio. to Charleston, which passed through Parkersburg. While Parkersburg and Clarksburg are only about 75 miles apart telephone calls between the two cities were routed by a very round about way until a direct line was constructed from Parkersburg to Cumberland in 1906. Previously telephone calls to the east were routed by way of Charleston or Wheeling a distance by telephone line of about 250 miles from Parkersburg to Clarksburg.
IN THE EARLY days Parkersburg's telephone system consisted of an aerial plant entirely. In the very beginning poles lines and open wire were used on many of the streets, and in the alleys. Later when the Independent Co. came into existence this condition became even more congested, since there were two lines constructed and two sets of open wires or cables extending through various sections of the city and everyone who needed a complete telephone service had to subscribe to telephones from both companies.
IN 1900 THE Bell Telephone Co. secured a new underground franchise and constructed an underground circuit and cable system in the business district and some of the near by residential sections. When these first underground cables were placed in service and extensive aerial cables constructed from the underground terminals into the outlying sections the company was able to remove a large number of poles and a considerable amount of aerial cable and open wire from streets. It also resulted in improved service and reduced maintenance costs according to the account.
The central office system and lines conduit and cable facilities were materially enlarged during the next several years. In 1917 the Consolidated Telephone Co. an independent company which had been operating a duplicate telephone system in Parkersburg for several years merged with Bell Telephone Co. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of West Va. was formed at that time and has served the Parkersburg area since. A central office was established in Vienna in 1926. Through the years the young women who operated the switchboards became known collectively as the "Voice With a Smile."
but that voice was stilled with the advent of the dial system that came when the volume of calls became too heavy to be handled personally by operators. As the load on the lines and terminals stations became even too much for that system direct dialing was born. The telephone was becoming a very impersonal but extremely effective communications instrument. Today you can dial direct to many parts of the world with an even more recent innovation Traffic Service Position System. The instruments have become much more sophisticated too. With the first old hand crank wooden box telephone each party on the line had different rings, "two shorts and a long, or two longs and a short, etc. One long ring was the sign alto arouse the switchboard operator to ring a party on a line other than yours, but you could ring other parties on your own line usually 10 or 12 or more.
operators had to learn each subscriber's name and ring before they could sit on the board. When one of the several hundred subscribers turned their crank to get the operator the operator took that plug down turned the crank and rang the called The switch board in the first central office was of the old fashioned drop type with the hand generator, crude in makeup and performance, but it rendered a valuable service at that time. During the early years the switchboard was closed at night. A. L. Bond was manager of the first central office and Fanny Paxton, Bessie Kenney and Lotta Marlow were the operators, with Miss Paxton being the first employed.
among the early subscribers were Flora Camden, Henry Jackson, George Thompson, L. A. Cole, Eagle Mills, Novelty Mills, Parkersburg Mill Co. Parkersburg Pulp Mill, Thompson & Jackson, Shattuck & Jackson, C. C. Martin, O. S. Jones, D. K. Paxton & Son, J. W. Kight, John Murdock, R. Wild, A. Wild, Second National Bank, Parkersburg National Bank, First National Bank, W. I. Boreman, Drs. Murdock and Wade, W. Skivoin, Andy Al's Hotel, Swan House, Citizens Bank Consolidated Oil Co., West Virginia Transportation, West Virginia Oil Co., Upson Oil Co., W. H. Smith, Arthur Smith, Robert Neal, Rex Hardware Co. Nicewander, Bentley & Gerwig Furntture Co.; W. H. Warner, Parkersburg Sentinel, White & Baker, C. D. Merrick, D. D. Johnson, Van Winkle & Ambler, Gov. Jackson & Son, W. N. Miller, C. H. Turner, Wharf boat, Western Union, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Freight Office, and Dudley Brothers.
Another news paper account in 1882 states that plans were being made to lay a cable across the Ohio River at that time, and service was expected to be extended to Marietta soon after. Telephone development in Parkersburg was slow for the first few years. May 1,1898, 16 years after the first party, staying on the line until the party answered. A sort of homey kinship developed between operators and subscribers. One operator said in the history she remembered one Christmas Day when the operators called all subscribers and told them they were going to close the board one hour for Christmas dinner. the dial phone simplified the calling procedure and many dial phones today are tiny delicate push button models which operate with a touch of the finger tips and reach around the world 24 hours a day.
The resident telephone subscriber figures in the Parkersburg service area have grown steadily especially since World War II and show a 36.5 percent gain for the 10 year period between 1972 and 1982 according to C & P statistics. Parkersburg proper had 14,655 subscribers in 1972 and boasted 17,653 in 1982 adding 2,998 for a 20.5 percent gain. The entire Parkersburg service area had 23,467 in 1972 and showed 32,040 in 1982 for the 36.5 percent gain. the lubeck exchange showed the higest rate of gain during the period with a 46.4 percent increase. It jumped from 2,209 to 3,234. Other exchanges in the Parkersburg system include Dallison, Vienna, Williamstown, Elizabeth, Valley Mills and Mineral Wells. The latter two exchanges were not in service until after 1972.
About 300 employees service the area operating from the C & P building at 921 Market St. Parkersburg. There are still installers, linemen, repairmen and other specialists and 11 office personnel but a large part of the workload has been delegated to the computer. billing, bookkeeping, customer records and various other "' functions all are computerized. a computer even tells the manager what his call loads should be on a given circuit at any time of day or night. there still are many persons around who remember the valiant personal service rendered by telephone company personnel during major fires and floods in the Parkesburg area. in future crises service will still be there but most the names and faces will be missing but any way you look at it it's far cry from the conch shell.
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