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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: 'Number please': a look back at Hawley phones (Part1)

  • Making a call in Hawley as well as anywhere else in America is easy- just pick up the phone and dial your number. Dial? Did I say dial?
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  • Making a call in Hawley as well as anywhere else in America is easy- just pick up the phone and dial your number. Dial? Did I say dial?
    These days we punch in the number, and some people in their car just speak it and the phone does the rest. Mostly we think of the nearly omnipresent cell phone, that little device that can't seem to leave home without us, and must be attached to the ear the way people walk around like they have an ear ache, one hand up as they seem to talk to themselves. That is, if they're not snapping a picture with it!
    It wasn't always that way.
    --- Telegraph came first
    Before the telephone, of course, was the telegraph. Thanks to the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal Company, Hawley was one of the early communities in the region to experience the wonder of communication over long distances on a wire.
    In about 1848, Ezra Cornell ran the first telegraph line to Honesdale, extending it from Montrose through Carbondale. While unclear if the line soon followed the D&H Canal through Hawley to Lackawaxen, one reference states the D&H ran an experimental line this far in 1862. The line proved successful, and was quickly extended along the rest of the 108 mile canal to Rondout on the Hudson River, and west on their gravity rail line.
    The Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC), which went separate from the D&H in the early 1860's, had their own telegraph service. Wires followed one of their gravity railroad tracks into Hawley, where the office was located on the east end of the Canal Basin. Monroe Thorpe and Elmer E. Vickere worked as PCC telegraph operators in Hawley.
    The PCC office still stands, and is the residence found on Park Place facing Bingham Park.
    Telegraph messages were received and sent from the D&H Canal office in Hawley, located on Hudson Street alongside the canal. The office is now a private residence.
    An enterprising Honesdale watch maker, Charles Petersen, was a pioneer in developing early telegraph and telephone lines in that area.
    Amateur telephone tinkering had become the rage in Honesdale among forward-thinking hobbyists in the 1877-1878.
    --- Phone line in 1882
    By 1882, Honesdale Bell Telephone Company had been formed, and lines were extended to Hawley as well as Prompton, Waymart, and other areas of the county. The exchange was set up at Petersen's store building on Main Street. Petersen was the Superintendent of the D&H Canal Company telegraph lines. Wires were stretched on poles along the Honesdale branch of the Erie Railroad to Hawley, as well as on the D&H Railroad west of Honesdale.
    The line to Hawley was the first erected.
    Page 2 of 4 - Hudson River Telephone Company purchased the telephone franchises of Wayne and Pike Counties in April 1883. Hudson planned to connect them with those of Orange County, New York and Sussex County, New Jersey. Phone service was expanding rapidly.
    By 1900, both the Hudson River Company and the Citizens and American Telephon Company (later Bell) operated in Honesdale. In 1908, the Hudson River Company was purchased by Bell of Pennsylvania.
    --- "Number please?"
    Quite a few residents as well as former Hawley resident can tell you about the days of the switchboard operator.
    The 1912 Hawley business directory lists Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, located on the second floor of the First National Bank building along with Consolidated Telephone Companies of Pennsylvania. There was a Western Union Telegraph office located in the Erie Railroad station near the Lackawaxen River bridge and alongside what is today the Hawley Library grounds.
    Wayne County Historical Society has a Bell Telephone directory for June 1910, with listings by town. For Hawley Borough there are approximately 110 telephone numbers. Just a few of them: Bellemonte Silk Mill (Dexter, Lambert & Co.) 54; Dr. George T. Rodman 37; St. Philomena's Church 10-2. Interestingly, there was no number for Hawley School. Also absent is any phone number for the Borough. Most of the listings appear to be for businesses.
    The 1910 phone book gives general instructions to the new phone user.
    "Signal to operator. When the operator asks. "Number please?' give the number of the telephone desired.
    "Speak close to the mouth-piece in a firm tone of voice. Hold the telephone to the ear until a reply is received from the number called for. Do not replace the telephone on the hook until the conversation is finished...
    "Operators are required to be courteous in their dealings with all subscribers, but are forbidden to hold conversations with them beyond that necessary in receiving calls and making connections."
    The 1925 directory places Bell Telephone at 508 Keystone Street. The switchboard moved again, and is listed in the 1931 directory at 206 Maple Avenue.
    June (Ellingsen) Strait, who was born in 1920, said that Henry Nolan paid to have the poles put up on Sport Hill (Spruce Street) in 1915. This brought electric and phone service to that section. June's parents bought their house from Nolan in 1919.
    She said her phone number was 75-R-3; it was a party line, and their phone rang three times. (Party lines are discussed further next week). She still has a phone bill her parents received dated Feb. 1, 1921 and totaling $2.00. Not everyone had a phone, she said. Her family sold chickens and eggs, and customers would call to place an order.
    Lorraine Bentley reminisced about her childhood in the Rowland area, where sometime in the 1940s her family had a telephone put in. Lackawaxen Telephone Company serviced them. At that time, phones were mounted on the wall.
    Page 3 of 4 - "Ours was perhaps 24" high, 12" wide and maybe 12" deep." said Bentley. "This was a stained or varnished wooden box-like fixture. The mouthpiece projected about 8" from the box and could be moved up and down to accommodate the height of the person speaking. The earpiece fit into a hook on the side of the box and had a cord from one end that went into the mechanism of the phone inside the box. On the other side of the box from the ear piece, was a crank used to make calls. The bells were on the front of the box at the top above the mouthpiece."
    She added, "Our number was 3-R-6. You turned the crank six times- so that it sounded like six short rings." The switchboard was in the home of Fred and Minnie Chandler, just down the road. Minnie was the operator.
    Shirley (Bea) Gumble said that her mother, Evaline (Gilpin) Bea, has been an operator in Carbondale before she was married. When the devastating flood of May 22-23, 1942 hit Hawley, a request went out for former telephone operators to volunteer in Hawley during the emergency. Evaline was back on the switchboard, in the house on Maple Avenue.
    Mame Afford ran the switchboard at the time at 206 Maple Avenue, where she lived. Other regular operators included Irene French, Clare Ruane, Edna Thornton and Bessie Richardson. In addition to Mrs. Bea, former operator Emma Cross volunteered.
    There were always two operators at the switchboard at any one time.
    Shirley's mother was on duty after the flood when a rumor circulated that the Wallenpaupack dam had broke, and masses of Hawley residents started fleeing to the hills. The operators stayed at their post.
    Mrs. Bea stayed on for a while after, at the switchboard. Shirley, who was 12 at the time, recalls that the phone company gave a banquet honoring the operators for their service during the emergency.
    One day Shirley's mother connected a call from the War Department, to the telegraph service at Manor Cut Rate on Main avenue- run by Izzie Skier. She overheard the message for Mrs. William Bea- that was Evaline- that there was news about her son Billy, who was in the Army. Evaline rushed over to the store and learned that her Billy had been badly wounded in combat.
    Shirley stated that she wanted to be an operator too but was too young. Mrs. Afford let her try on the headphones. She remembers the big black board with levers, and the many plugs.
    One day near Christmas a youngster called the switchboard and Shirley's mother took the call. The boy wanted to speak to Santa Claus. Mrs. Bea thought quickly, and called her husband (William Bea) and asked him if he'd play Santa and talk to the child. The call was connected and at least one local boy must have thought he reached the North Pole.
    Page 4 of 4 - NEXT WEEK: Party lines & dial service

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