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Dayhoff: Originally viewed as business tool, telephone came to Westminster not long after it was invented

Dayhoff: Originally viewed as business tool, telephone came to Westminster not long after it was invented
Icy Main Street looking east from the intersection with Court Street in February 1902. The photo was taken by Mitchell's Gallery and donated to the Historical Society by Mrs. Robert K. Billingslea Sr. It was a part of the J. Leland Jordan Collection, a gift of the commissioners. (Historical Society of Carroll County)

Telephone service first came to Westminster on July 12, 1884, according to a May 28, 1937 Carroll County Times article written by Emma Grady. The Westminster telephone office was located on the second floor of the Wantz Building on East Main Street and provided service for the 26 telephones in town.

According to my high school classmate, Nancy Warner, in her book “Carroll County Maryland, A History 1837-1976,” one of the reasons the citizens of Westminster clamored for bringing the telephone to Westminster quickly was the fact that the town was 2 miles long and traveling from one end of town to the other was considered quite a journey.

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The telephone came to Carroll County only eight years after Alexander Graham Bell was granted his second patent on March 7, 1876 — four days after his 29th birthday, for an "Improvement in Telegraphy.”

President Rutherford B. Hayes had the first telephone installed in the White House in 1878. (The first cell phone call was made on April 3, 1973 by Martin Cooper while he was working as the general manager of Motorola's Communications Systems Division.)

From the beginning in the 1880s, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company advertised in both The Democratic Advocate and The American Sentinel. The invention was only 8 years old at that time and it was considered news when its use was being opened to any community. By July 6, 1884 "Westminster [was] connected with Union Bridge by telephone, where the line meets the Frederick County system [which then connected to Baltimore.]”

Several readers asked follow-up questions about the phone service after the article on the February 1902 ice storm appeared in the paper a month ago. One of the photographs of the storm showed Main Street looking east from around the intersection with Court Street and showed a great number of telephone wires. The photograph was taken by Mitchell's Gallery of Westminster and was donated to the Historical Society by Mrs. Robert K. Billingslea, Sr. It was a part of the J. Leland Jordan Collection, which was a gift of the Commissioners of Carroll County in 1954.

Portions of this discussion of the history of the telephone in Carroll County have been published in the past. Much of the information for this particular article was pulled from a story I wrote in the March 3, 2005 edition of the Westminster Advocate. In 2005, John Jordan, who was the manager at Baugher’s, George Welty, and Sam Greenholtz were a big help in piecing together the history of the telephone in Carroll County.

In the 1880s, the telephone was originally seen as a business tool rather than as a residential convenience. This same view was taken when other public utilities, such as gas or electric lighting, came to the city at about the same time.

Curiously, in the latter part of August 1884, the telephone in Westminster was first recognized as a speedy medium for obtaining sports returns. Long distance service came to Westminster in February of 1885. According to Warner; “As citizens obtained new telephones, their names, and numbers were advertised in the newspapers.” By 1900 there were 801,000 telephones in the United States and by 1903, 198 of those telephones were in Westminster.

Before the end of 1884, most important business establishments, drug stores, and local physicians’ offices had a telephone connection. The county offices had one telephone and declared that it needed 14 more. There was one telephone in the Courthouse and there was much discussion in town that “there should be a line to the waterworks, also, to be used in event of a fire.”

Miss Mary Bostwick Shellman was the first manager-operator of the new Westminster exchange, where she worked for almost six years. Miss Flora McNeil and Harry Crouse assisted her when she needed help. Miss Shellman served Alexander Graham Bell lunch in July 1884 when he visited the Westminster office.

In 1952 my Mom, Louise Wright (Miller,) was a telephone operator in Westminster. Our phone number was 64R. Mom worked in the early 1950s with folks like Atha Slonaker (who trained Mom), Marie Goodenmuth (Andalora,) Jean Bixler DeGroff, Jean Deardorf, (Chief Operator) Nancy Smith, Shirley Knight (Nelson,) Charlotte Ripley (Patterson) Elsie Singer (Zumbrun,) Beatrice Singer (King,) and Mildred Brewer. Mildred’s brother, Dean Brewer has fond memories of attending the Christmas parties at the phone company, to see the train garden.

In 1953, I was a kid living at 40 Ward Avenue and our phone number was 1462-J. The letter stood for a “party line.” It meant that you shared the phone number with other folks and you had to take turns using the phone. Calling out or in was difficult because usually one of the “parties” sharing the line was usually on the phone.

And 65 years later folks are still on their phones all the time.

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