Chester Township History & Genealogy

The Telephone & Other Utilities

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Telephone Service


Telephone service came to the village of Conklin in 1905.  An article in the December 30, 1904 Coopersville Observer states, “We hear that our new telephone line will soon be in service.”  A May 4, 1906 article in the same newspaper states, “The Bell telephone company have 25 new phones put in.”  Another article in the Coopersville Observer on August 10, 1906, states, “The Bell Telephone Company finished putting in their new phones this week.”  Another article in the same edition elaborates, “The Michigan State Telephone Co.’s gang of men, who have been working here the past few weeks, extending the line in the rural district, will complete their work here this week.  The Conklin exchange is growing rapidly and now covers a big part of north Ottawa County.”   




The early phones were the crank type.  Large, heavy batteries were contained inside the box.  These batteries provided the only power for the system  The phones rang into a central switchboard located in an office on the corner of Miller Street and the ally behind Main street.  The operator would connect you with the person you wanted to reach.  All of the phones were on a “party line” with telephones from three to as many as nine households sharing one line.  You knew that a call was for you by the distinctive ring assigned to your telephone.  For example:  one short ring would be for family one, two short rings would be for family two, one short and one long ring would be for family three, etc.  Of course, nothing prevented folks from listening in on other people’s conversations.  You had to be careful not to say anything that you wouldn’t want repeated. 




Conklin Telephone Switchboard Office in the background, 1918.

Clara Rhodes managed the Conklin exchange from 1917 until 1947.  June Karel worked as an operator from 1945 to 1947.  She then took over as manager, serving from 1947 to 1959.  Conversion of the Conklin exchange to dial telephones began in April 1958 and was completed late the next year.  The switchboard was removed and the building that housed the Conklin telephone exchange for over fifty years was converted into a private residence.

Conklin Telephone Switchboard Office, 1959.

As you can see from the pictures, little was done to Conklin's Telephone Switchboard Office building between 1918 and 1959.  A porch was added to the front of the building, modern plumbing was installed inside, and the upstairs was converted into an apartment.

June Karel at the Conklin exchange switchboard

Michigan Associated Telephone Company long distance charge slip




































Excitement about the prospect of having dial telephones is evidenced by the  article below that appeared in the September 17, 1958, edition of the Grand Rapids Press.






















Even with the installation of dial telephones, people in the Conklin exchange remained on party lines, although, the number of families on one line was reduced.  It took several years before enough new lines were installed to allow families to have a private phone line.


Also, as with many “modern conveniences” in Chester Township, initial telephone service and later improvements became available first to residents of the village of Conklin.  Then, very gradually,  these services and upgrades reached the residents in other parts of the township.

Michigan Associated Telephone Company employee magazine

The corporate ownership    The Conklin Exchange underwent several changes over the years.  First, smaller companies broke the Bell monopoly, then these smaller companies were bought out by large corporations.  As with many communities, the Conklin exchange started under the Bell Company of Michigan.  Then Michigan Associated Telephone Company took over.  In the late 1930s General Telephone Corporation purchased all of the Michigan Associated Telephone Company exchanges, including Conklin.  However, General Telephone Company did not start changing the names of its subsidiary companies for at least a decade.  General Telephone reorganized and expanded to become GTE in the later half of the 20th century.  Then, early in the 21st century, GTE merged with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon.  In 2010, Verizon sold all of its landline business to Frontier Communications.*












*Thomas E. McCarthy, The History of GTE, GTE Corporation, 1990.




Electricity & Natural Gas

Chester Township
Ottawa County
Michigan, USA