Athens Telephone Company
On July 13, 1907, the Athens Telephone Company was incorporated for a period of fifty years. The principal place of business of this corporation was located in the Town of Athens, and its chief works were to be located in what were then Plymouth, Rock, Jumping Branch and East River Districts of Mercer County.
The objects and purposes for which this corporation was formed were: to construct, maintain and operate a telephone system; and to buy and sell telephone systems and real estate connected with said system.
The incorporators of the Athens Telephone Company were residents of Athens, and they were W. I. Gautier, D. H. Thornton, Samuel R. Holroyd, W. T. Appling and J. F. Pennington. On August 10, 1907, the first meeting of the company was held for the purposes of organizing and proceeding with the business. According to the minutes of this first meeting, D. H. Thornton, R. B. McKenzie, Tom Dickenson, Essey Thorn, Henry Keatley, J. F. Pennington and Opie Karnes were elected Directors. The Directors, in turn, elected the following officers: Dr. D. H. Thornton, president; Thomas Dickenson, vice-president; John F. Pennington, treasurer; and O. O. Karnes, secretary. R. B. McKenzie was appointed as statutory attorney. Among others who have served as President of the Athens Telephone Company are W. L. G. McKenzie, H. B. Barber, John M. Bailey, D. L. Thompson, Levi Scott and L. B. Parker.
The system consisted of battery-powered telephones located in households throughout the Athens area. These were connected by bare steel wires mounted on chestnut poles and protected by glass insulators. There were about twenty party lines on which there were usually six to ten customers. Also, there were numerous private lines, most of which were located in the Town of Athens. The heart and center of the whole system was the switchboard located in Athens. In the beginning, this was connected with the telephone company in Princeton by one long-distance line, so that calls could be made outside of the local system.
Originally, the switchboard of this local system was located in a room of what is now the Town Hall. It has also been stationed at other locations, including the residence of James Pennington and a room over Maupin’s Store, before being moved to a room over the present Town Hall, which is located in a building that was purchased by the Athens Telephone Company in 1923 and later sold in 1954 to an individual ---- and eventually was purchased by the Town of Athens in 1973.
In the everyday use of the telephone system, all calls had to be made through the operator at the switchboard ---- except those made between customers sharing a party line. These customers were assigned a series of three or four short and long rings. These rings were activated by cranking a magneto located in each telephone instrument . Private lines had one long ring which was the same to get the attention of the operator at the switchboard. Calls between private lines and between party lines as well as long distance calls had to go through the operator.
Operation and maintenance of the system were in the hands of those it served. Customers of each party line elected a director whose primary duty was to keep the party line operational. Also, directors were elected by those having private lines. At an annual meeting, the directors elected the officers who managed the company.
As stated before, the heart and center of the system was the switchboard located in Athens. No more important service was performed for the system than that done by those who worked the switchboard. This involved individuals who worked where they lived and lived with their work. They served faithfully twenty-four hours every day. Over the years, these unique individuals have included Elizabeth Massie ( Mrs. J. M. Reed ), Addie Massie, Naomi (Speck) Oxley, Walter Reed, Lydia Caperton, Helen Caperton, Mrs. Fred Mastin ( Nannie Glendy ) who served 25 years as an operator, and Mrs. Rufus Kahle ( Mrs. S. L. McGraw ).
Although the Athens Telephone Company did not quite survive for the full fifty year period for which it was intended, it can certainly be said that during the time that it did exist, this unique enterprise did serve the people in the area very well. It was unique in that it was created by the people and for the people it served. During the first half of the 20th century, it was the most important means of communication for the people of the area. It made close neighbors of the people living miles apart in this rural community. In emergencies, firemen, policemen or doctors could be called quickly. In purely business and social affairs, the telephone was important.
In July of 1954, the General Telephone System acquired the Bluefield Telephone Company which had been serving its customers since 1893. Later the same year, the Athens Telephone Company was also acquired and added to the Southeast Company. The General Telephone Company of the Southeast was created by the joining together of many small and basically rural telephone companies. The Athens Telephone Company, which was created to serve a few hundred customers living in several districts o Mercer County, is now a part of a Company serving more than one million customers living in seven southeastern states of the United States.