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September 20, 2018

Sanders County Historical Society Photo

THE PEEK BUILDING is the two-story wood building on the left that housed the first telephone office in Thompson Falls.

40 YEARS AGO • SEPTEMBER 14, 1978

MA BELL COMES LONG WAY HERE SINCE 1912

From the woman called "central" and the magneto switchboard Ma Bell has come a long way in Thompson Falls.

"Central," now called an operator, was the friendly voice on the other end of the telephone who manually made telephone connections for the exchange established here in 1912.

When the caller lifted his receiver a switch in his telephone lighted a lamp in front of "central." She plugged a cord into the proper jack and flipped a switch enabling her to talk to the caller.

The caller gave the number and "central" plugged into a second jack connected to the number desired. A bell would then ring in the called person's telephone. Another light went on and stayed on until the called person answered. When the conversation was completed two bulbs lighted and "central" would take down both cords and disconnect the call. Twenty telephones were served.

In 1913 or 1914 a new switchboard was installed and 66 telephones were served. The number of telephones increased to 71 at the end of 1923, 95 in 1933 and 166 in 1943.

Dial service came to Thompson Falls in 1955. And in 1968 direct distance dialing was initiated.

Even the telephone offices have undergone drastic changes since those early telephone days. In 1922, O.R. Newman, then plant superintendent for the phone company, wrote this description of the Thompson Falls telephone office:

"Exchange quarters consist of one large front room used for operating room and public office and one smaller rear room used for terminal room and sleeping quarters for the night operator, located on the second floor of a two-story brick structure on Main St. owned by Dr. Peek of Missoula. No fire hazard in this or the adjacent buildings. Monthly rental is $17. Lease expires Feb. 1, 1923 and will be renewed. Quarters are adequate and comfortable. Light and stove heat furnished by us, water furnished by owner. Small store room in the rear of building furnished with lease."

He goes on to say about the outside plant:

"Outside plant is good condition, built about 1912 or 1913. About 70 percent cable. Will take care of the town for years to come, as there is not much prospect for future growth."

This outside plant couldn't take care of Thompson Falls today. At the end of 1923, there were 71 telephones being served in Thompson Falls compared to 1,089 as of July 31, 1978.

In the 1918 Missoula directory 68 numbers made up the Thompson Falls list which consisted of a half a page. In the 1978 Missoula directory Thompson Falls numbers are listed on 3½ pages which are about twice the size of those in the 1918 directory. (Compare this to 18 pages of Thompson Falls listings in the 2018 phone directory.)

The Sanders County Ledger phone number in 1918 was "9" and the First State Bank's number was "17." The Rev. F.E. Dodds number was "59 blk."

Some of the last names listed in the 1918 Missoula area directory that are also included in the area 1978 directory for Thompson Falls are: Hart, Hartman, Hoagland, Hoyt, Parks, Preston and White.

From the book "A Heritage Remembered" by Lorraine Dufresne:

The first telephone service in Thompson Falls was established by Dr. Peek in 1905. There were six telephones in town then according to the late Mrs. A.S. Ainsworth. Inter connected and signaling was done by the caller "cranking" a code ring on the magneto wall set. By 1912, twenty telephones were in use.

About 1913 or 1915, a new switchboard was installed upstairs in the hotel annex of the original Peek building. The old building was destroyed by fire in 1922 and after the completion of the new Peek building the switchboard was located in a small office space which would be east of the present I&E Grocery Store (now Linda's Gifts and D&D Liquor).

 

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