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suBmitteD By luCille Keegan
BRISTOL - Try to imagine what it would be like to be living in the 1700’s during this pan- demic and how hard it would be to communicate with neighbors and friends. How did the early settlers of Bristol communicate? The earliest settlers would rely on someone coming by horseback through the area to deliver letters to the local tavern for them to pick up when in town. Previous to the Revolutionary War there was no regular mode of mail de- livery anywhere in NH. Chap- ter XII in Musgrove’s History of Bristol provides information about the development of the post office in NH. As towns and roads became more prevalent the stagecoach would drop off the mail at the tavern. The first post office in Bristol (at that time part of Bridgewater) was opened on Jan. 1, 1805. The mail arrived and departed only once a week.
The first telegraph wire to Bristol was put up, about 1870, by the Northern Telegraph Company. The first office was in Cyrus Taylor’s store. By 1879 the line had been moved from its original place along the road from Franklin to along the rail- road tracks and the office was moved around to various loca- tions the last being the upper level of the White’s Block (where
Number Please
April 2021
 the Imagine Shop is now). The Tilton and New Hampton Tele- graph and Telephone Company extended a telegraph line to Bristol in 1892. A year later this became the telephone line. In 1894, the Bell Telephone com- pany opened a public office in George Kendall’s store and the following year George A. Robie established a local line in Bristol, Bridgewater, Hebron and Alex- andria. Mr. Robie united his line with the Bell Telephone line for outside business in August 1899 with the exchange located in his store on Pleasant Street.
From an article in the Bris- tol Enterprise, Oct. 21, 1937, I found that Mr. Robie had his first telephone line between his home on Lake Street to where Styles is now located. In running his line he wanted to attach it to his neighbor’s house but his neigh- bor, Mr. Crockett, “objected to having all his secrets known”. By 1896 he had moved his telephone business to his store. He bought the parts and constructed his own board. Most of the lines were single ground wires attached to trees. In August 1899 he con- nected his line to Franklin for outside business. At 9 PM notice would be given to Franklin that the Bristol office was closing for the night.
In 1908 Benjamin White pur- chased the telephone business from Mr. Robie and moved the
office to a second floor space in his building, the White’s block. He established a 24 hour ser- vice and endeavored to build pole lines and hang metallic cir- cuits on those lines. He installed a Couch and Seeley turret type desk switchboard and the first regularly employed operator’s commenced work. In 1912 the business was purchased by the Winnipesaukee Telephone Com- pany who installed a Standard 2 position board.
In an interview by the Enter- prise with Mr. White he tells a story of being told frequently by farmers concerning his glass insu- lators on poles that “your bottle is broken”. Do you remember those glass insulators? Some of you may have a collection of them!
The telephone has gone through many design changes since those early days. There was the crank phone, the desk model, the wall phone, the prin- cess phone and then came the cordless. Phones go everywhere with their owners now!
I recently chatted with local resident, Barbara Greenwood, about her experience as a young telephone operator in Bristol. When Barbara was a junior in high school the chief telephone operator in town called the high school principal, Gordon Tate, for a recommendation for some- onetocoverthe11PMto7AM shift in the telephone office. Mr. Tate recommended her and she got the job. She worked through the summer months and when needed in her senior year. The job required confidentiality and courage. The local fire alarm
Chief Operator, Flossie Kinley
system was in the telephone of- fice and she feared that the alarm would sound. At this time Bristol had one police officer. On the side of the building there was a red light that would be turned on when he was needed. The switchboard was a three position arrangement where the operator took calls and connected lines. Remember “number please?” This was also the era of party lines. A number of people would share the same line each having their own number of rings. It was possible to listen in on some- one else’s conservation as well as to tie up the line for extended time if you liked to talk! She also told how some people would call the office and leave a message that they were going out for the day and would not be available for any calls.
After graduating from high school Barbara became a full time employee of AT&T and joined the union. In 1952 a new building was built on Spring Street and AT&T changed over
to a dial up system. This meant the closing of the switchboard and the employees were no lon- ger needed. Being a union em- ployee AT&T had to guarantee her a job. As a young person with a sense of adventure she and her friend, Eileen Jones, drove across country and she went to work for AT&T in San Diego. The Ko- rean War was going on at this time and San Diego was a busy port. Her next move was to DC, having married and then even- tually returning to Bristol. Bar- bara remembered that in order to make an overseas call you had to make an appointment. Barbara has fond memories of her time as a telephone operator.
The new cell tower in Bristol is the latest technology for im- proving local telephone service. I wonder what communication will be like 50 years from now.
The Bristol Historical Soci- ety Museum will be opening on Tuesday, June 1. New hours this year will be 6:30-8:30. For more information call 744-2751.
Craig Adam
Plumbing • Gas Piping • Water Purification
C: 978-804-3102 T: 603-217-0365
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All Phases of Property Maintenance Located in Hebron (603) 744-7846
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