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Matamoras Minute: Lines of communication

Photo provided by Carol Gay. Operator Mabel Eddy is in charge of her switchboard at “Central.”

“Hello, Sarah? This is Barney Fife. Get Sheriff Taylor for me.”

This greeting sounds familiar on television but not necessarily for today’s communication standards. In the early days however this was as modern as the times allowed. “Central” was the hub of keeping the lines of communication open. That was where all calls were “put through” as the phrase went.

In Matamoras during the time period of 1926 to 1936, Sophia and Nancy Way were the operators assigned at “Central” and they had no days off for vacation with someone always there 24 hours a day. Other operators over the years included their sister, Josephine Barnhart, plus Lucy Cochran, Helen Taylor, Nellie Fisher, Beryl Hubbard, Leatha Smith, Olga Marsh, Lucy Huffman, Edna Beaver, Ada Machetanz, and Delia Busche. And depending on which older citizens of town you ask, the various locations of “Central” is as long as the list of operators.

When anything was in question you generally only had to pick up the telephone receiver and the local operator knew the answer. Where was the fire, who had been arrested, who was ill? All was known by the dependable voice on the other end.

Before house use became common, a telephone in Matamoras could be found on the first block of Main Street at Dr. West’s drug store. The site was practically community property with long distance calls ringing in at the store followed by the hurried departure of any messenger who agreed to “fetch” the recipient of the phone call.

An early enterprise in the area was the Matamoras-Brownsville Telephone Company. This was in operation in 1924 and by the 1950s there was added the Trail Run Telephone Company Exchange. For surrounding areas there was the Heslop Telephone Company. In some instances phone companies were created that served as few as ten people.

Common images of less than today’s expectations included telephone poles made out of tree trunks, lines tacked to limbs or anything that would provide some kind of support, the “ding-a-ling” heard as the small handle on the side of the telephone was turned, and local numbers like 67R2 or 11R3.

A reading on May 5, 1924 at the Matamoras’ village council meeting was held under Mayor W.C. Miller to approve lines and poles for telephone service. One section stated, “Beginning on the northerly line side of Main Street on the premises now owned by James Cline; thence crossing Main Street to the intersection of Vine Street, upon which street called Vine shall be located one pole; thence crossing Vine Street over private property to Cougler Street…” and on and on.

“What’s that Sarah? …Oh, yes he did say he was going on a picnic with Helen. Never mind.”

John Miller is president of the Matamoras Area Historical Society. Membership dues are $15 per year single/couple. Life membership is $150. Contact the society at P.O. Box 1846, New Matamoras, Ohio 45767. Much of this column is built on the work of Matamoras’ historian, the late Diana McMahan.

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