Back in 1996 some residents of our area, discouraged by the
lack of affordable Internetservice banded together and initiated their own
affordable Internet link, HERD COW.
These forward thinking citizens may not have realized it but
they were following an already established local tradition.
Back about 1909,
(The company didn’t legally incorporate until 1912 but had functioned for at
least three years before that.) the local farmers of the Maple Ridge Road were
frustrated because they wanted residential phone service. No company was
willing to provide the service so they took matters into their own hands. This
was really quite extraordinary for the time because in 1909 the village of
Heuvelton had only a half dozen phones in the whole village and these were all
in businesses not private residences.
The Maple Ridge farmers were practical people. They knew how
to build fences so why not a phone line? They harvested local cedar posts 16
feet tall and set them out along the Maple Ridge Road with the wires 12 feet
off the ground. Wires were strung all the way to De Kalb Village (Old De Kalb)
where a switchboard was established.
of the original cedar telephone poles, long abandoned still stands today on
The lines were soon extended along the De Peyster Rd (County
Route 17) as far as the first house on Stevenson Rd and part way down Ritchie
and Hitchcock Roads. The June 29, 1911 Ogdensburg Advance announced that; “the
Maple Ridge Telephone Company would soon be erecting lines on the Old De Kalb
De Kalb Junction Road.” Later that
year service was extended into the hamlet of De Kalb Junction.
The Maple Ridge Rural Telephone Company was officially
incorporate with the State of New York in 1912. President was Ervin Streeter
and H. L. Streeter was secretary and treasurer. Service would eventually extend
eastward along what is today US 11, Risley Rd, Forest House Rd. and the Canton-
Old De Kalb Rd.
The original service network was very fragile. A severe ice
storm hit St Lawrence County on February 23, 1913. On April 10, 1913 the
Ogdensburg Advance noted, “The Maple Ridge Telephone Company has no lines in
working order since the severe ice storm.” Six weeks after the storm there was
still no service.
The phones used at this time were, the old wall crank units.
Power was provided for the transmission lines by batteries. When you wanted the
extra power necessary to actually ring a bell to get an operator, you turned a
crank on the side of the phone generating the power for the bell. The phones
required an operator to connect you to the person you were calling. Phone
numbers consisted of letters and numbers (i.e. 14-Y-2) indicating the column
and row for the operator to connect you to on the switchboard. There was no
overnight phone service until 1927.
The Maple Ridge Telephone Company was totally locally owned
and operated as a service to its customer owners. They held annual shareholders
meetings at Old De Kalb each June on the last Monday. The officers were all
local citizens. Ervin Streeter was the longest serving President with over 18
years of service. Others who served as president of the company included;
Atherton Farr who served six years, William Brice, Ira Sayer and Frank Stowell.
There were several treasurers of the company over its' lifespan. In 1938 N.
Burnham was serving as treasurer at the sprightly age of 86, having served
since 1912. Other treasurers included; Floyd Denesha, and S. Thornhill. D A
Moore and Lou Moore served as secretaries for the company.
The first switchboard was located in a house on Canton St in
Old De Kalb. Eventually the offices were moved up the hill on Grove St to the
home of Floris Griffith. Floris served as central operator of the company for
16 years. In order to have night service, there had to be substitute operators.
Some of these included; Mary Whitton Stowell, Hazel Snyder, and Elva Conklin.
Bill for Town of De Kalb’s Telephone service November and December
The company tried to keep rates low for their subscribers.
In 1931 it cost $1.12 per month to have basic phone service. By 1942 the rate
had risen to $3.25 for two months service, an increase of about 50 cents per
month in 11 years.
Telephone technology changed rapidly and with low rates the
Maple Ridge Rural Telephone Company could not keep up with the changes. In 1938
the Richville telephone company got dial service but in 1947 the Maple Ridge
Telephone Company still did not have dial service and had no prospects for
Donald T. Todd who had owned the Edwards and Hermon
Telephone companies for many years approached the Maple Ridge shareholder about
a buyout with a promise of dial service within a year.
The company’s shareholders voted unanimously to sell the company to him for
$3300. The company then had 163 subscribers. He took control on January 1,
Todd died in less than a year and Alton Cobb became the new
owner of the three telephone companies. He changed the name of the Maple Ridge
telephone company to the De Kalb telephone company in 1949 and moved the
central office and switchboard to the home of Mrs. Rosemary Carroll Peters in
De Kalb Junction.
However it was not until 1960 that ground was broken on an
automatic switching station on Gibbons Street. Dial service was finally
instituted in 1961, thirteen years after the sale of the Maple Ridge Rural
Telephone Company. TDS became the owner in 1974.
Office of the Richville Telephone Co.
Seeing the success of their neighbors on Maple Ridge the
citizen of Richville organized their own telephone company. The New York State
Secretary of State officially chartered it, in May 1912. The first trustees
were: Adelbert Gates, Fred Spooner, Elmer Seavey, Frank Beaman, Frank Bristol,
Manley E. Johnson, William Hale, Fred Smith and Charles E. Small. The company
sold 9000 shares at one dollar per share to finance the operation. They
purchased a Lot on Main St In Richville in December 1912.
One of the first operators for the company was Alsa
By the spring of 1914 they were extending service to the
western end of Maple Ridge Rd, Osbornville and North Gouverneur. Their service
region would eventually cover the northwest portion of the town of Hermon as
well. In 1920 the company purchased the house next to the Wayside Cemetery and
Baptist Church to serve as a switching board headquarters.
The manager of the company for many years was J.F.
Etheridge. Mabel Bigelow and Ruth Jones each served as switchboard operators
for over 20 years. All night service was instituted in January 1927.
On October 6, 1928 a stockholders meeting was held at the
Richville Grange Hall to consider an offer from Northern New York Telephone
Company of Plattsburgh, NY to buy out the company. After much discussion it was
unanimously agreed to sell the company for not less than one dollar and
twenty-five cents per share, a net gain of 25% for each dollar originally
invested. The transfer took place on May 20, 1929 just months before the Great
Dial service came to the Richville telephone company on
October 6, 1938 when all local operators were laid off. The service was an
improvement but a far cry from what we expect today. All phones were on 10
party lines. Subscribers heard everyone’s phone ring but were to pick up only
when they heard their own code (such as a long a short and two longs). All
calls were requested to be kept to three minutes in
The independent Richville exchange ended in 1964 when the
exchange was merged into the Gouverneur exchange.
St. Lawrence County Clerk ND Deeds Liber 181C p. 1333 Liber
198B p. 940 Liber 256 p 224-226. Canton,
Northern New Historical Newspapers Ogdensburg Republican May 20 , 1912, Nov 1911, Oct 1910.