Vardaman History Project - Telephone System

The Earliest Area Telephones

The telephone was first patented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell and further developed by many others. By 1911 a relatively large network of telephones had grown up in the areas surrounding Vardaman. The typical telephone of the time was similar to the wall phone pictured here. Telephone

Monette Young, in her book The Cherry Hill - Poplar Springs - Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi, tells of the use of the rural telephone system in the communities north of Vardaman following a tragic accident on May 28, 1911.

According to Mrs. Young, fifteen year old Linder Murphree had suffered massive head injuries which were to prove fatal. This was a runaway wagon accident and it occurred on the road between Poplar Springs Church and the northwest part of the Lloyd community. Dr. Steve Coley was the doctor living in the Reid community then and he was called on the telephone. The telephone hook-up in the Reid and Lloyd area was extensive. Each of the small clusters of homes had a telephone wire stretched through the woods, fastened to trees. A big wall-mounted telephone with a long mouth was in most homes. Each of the lines was connected to a "call bell" at someone's house . If one wanted to call someone who was not on their line, they would ring the "call bell" and ask to have that line connected to theirs and that person's "ring", a combination of long and short rings, be made on that line. Everyone knew their own as well as all the other "rings" and all usually listened in on all the calls.

On this day when various people heard Dr. Coley's ring, they all responded as usual by going to their phones and picking up the receiver to listen in. Linder's sister Ethel picked up the receiver on their phone in Lloyd and it was by this means that Linder's family learned the bad news.

Early telephones like these were powered by batteries at each home and used a single wire with a ground return to complete the circuit. A hand-cranked generator (a magneto) was used to produce the high voltage to ring the bells of other telephones on the line and to alert the operator.

Mrs. Young continues: "From my babyhood the old wall telephone was fastened to the wall near to where its line came in on the southwest corner of our house. I can recall hearing Mother at our house east of Reid talk to my grandmother at her house in Lloyd. Phone service cost only what the telephone cost to buy originally and the cost of the batteries. Men in the community strung ordinary wire from tree to tree in the woods and on to short poles where there were no trees."

"The two or three mile line to the call bell from our house was Daddy's responsibility. Storms would break the wire or some mischievous vandal might cut it. On rainy days, when he could not go to the fields, and the line was not working, he would have to follow it through the woods until he found the cut or broken place and climb up and tie it together."

Telephones and the Anglins

Photo by William Harpole

In the town of Vardaman, the Board of Aldermen granted J. M. Edmondson a franchise to erect the first telephone system in Vardaman on 3 April 1928. No description of this system has been found.

By 1940 the Vardaman telephone system was owned by Mrs. Grace McCullough. Her occupation in the 1940 federal census is listed as telephone operator. Her house with the switchboard was located near the original water tank.

Anglin House Isom Anglin, his wife Georgia Bailey Anglin, and their sons Dale and Joe Van lived across the street from Mrs. McCullough. They had moved to Vardaman from Lloyd and Mr. Anglin had bought the section house from the railroad for $300. He and Charlie Perkins used a county crawler tractor to haul it from about where the Ram Shack is now to its present location by the old water tank. They told later that sometimes the pull would get to be too much for the tractor and they would have to rig up a "deadman", a series of ropes and pulleys, to get the house over that spot. It took 8 days to move the house.

Mr. Anglin had bought a large lot. The house was placed on the northeast corner of it across the street from the southwest leg of the water tank. The lot extended west to the alley which was behind the downtown stores on the east side. He also bought a building on the east side of Main Street where he set up a radio repair store. The back of this building was just across the alley from his home lot. Mrs. Anglin brought her cow and chickens from Lloyd. Places for them were made on the lot along with a large garden and a place for pigs. Their son Joe Van remembers having chicken just about every Sunday. As was true of all the other houses and stores in Vardaman, there was an outdoor privy.

Some time around 1942, Mrs. Georgia Anglin bought the telephone exchange from Mrs. McCullough and the switchboard and wiring were moved to the Anglin house. Mrs. Anglin was the daughter of Marshall Bailey who managed the Bailey store at Lloyd and was also the Lloyd postmaster. Marshall Bailey's children were Jim, Raymond, Roy (killed in a log truck accident), Myrt, Serena, Georgia, Hazel, and Sunshine. The Bailey children seem to have all been gifted or trained in merchandising. Georgia owned the telephone exchange, Jim was co-owner of the Morgan & Bailey General Merchandise store. Hazel was the wife of the other co-owner of that store and worked there. Raymond and Sunshine were also known for their merchandising abilities.

When the Anglins bought the telephone exchange, Dale, the older Anglin son, was 19, and Joe Van, the youngest son, was 14. In a recent interview, Joe Van at age 85 remembered those days clearly. He said that from the time his mother bought the exchange, he became the chief pole climber and wire stringer for the family telephone business. In addition, he and his bicycle were often called on to deliver messages that came in on the phone for people in the town who did not have phones. It was during World War II and he said that some of these were sad messages: sons and husbands killed or wounded or missing in action. Dale was in the Navy during the war and helped out with the telephone system when he was able to get home on leave.

When a call came that someone wanted to talk to someone who didn't have a phone, Mrs. Anglin would send Joe Van over to tell the person who would then come back to the switchboard at the Anglin house and call the person back. She charged a 25 cent messenger fee for Joe Van delivering the message.

Although there were about 30 phones in Vardaman, people without phones who wanted to call long distance would come to the switchboard. Joe Van recalls that there were various people who would make selling arrangements that way such as one man who regularly called Bryan Brothers in West Point to arrange to sell his pigs to them. He also remembered a Mr. Crane who lived at New Liberty who was the representative of a milling company and would call various merchants to sell them barrels of flour.

During the war, the Anglins were asked to let soldiers at Camp McCain near Grenada help upgrade the telephone system as part of their training. The soldiers' labor would be free and the Anglins would provide the material. Joe Van said that actually the soldiers also provided a good bit of material. They rewired part of the system including the wiring coming into the Anglin's house to the switchboard. The soldiers, some 8 to 10 of them, ate in the Anglin's front yard. They brought their food with them from Camp McCain, but Georgia Anglin made iced tea for them.

Joe Van Anglin joined the Navy late in the war. While he and Dale were away from Vardaman, their father Isom had to do the pole climbing and wire stringing.

The Vardaman Baptist Church is across the street and a bit to the west of the Anglin house. Since some member of the family, usually Mrs. Anglin, had to be at home on Sunday during the time of the church service, Mr. Anglin ran a wire from his house to the church and installed a microphone on the pulpit. An amplifier and speaker were connected at the house so that whoever was there could hear the service.

Moving On....

Joe Van said that he doesn't remember exactly when his mother sold the exchange, but it was apparently in the late 1940s. By the summer of 1951 the exchange had been moved to the J.W. Hill house and was being operated by Bernice and Beatrice Harrell who were living there at the time. The J.W. Hill house was just south of the Whitehorn house on the same side of the street and it was across the street to the west from the Sadie Richards Ramsey (later Sadie Richards Ramsey Blue) house.

Dial Phones and Better Coverage

On June 22, 1950, the Calhoun City Telephone Company placed an advertisement in The Monitor Herald that was headlined Dial Telephone Service Proposed For Urban And Rural Areas In Southern Part Of County. The ad said that the Company had been working with the Rural Electrification Association (REA) concerning a loan that would enable the Company to construct a new dial telephone system that would serve the south part of Calhoun county. Specifically, the coverage would begin a short distance south of Pittsboro going south to the Webster county line, east to the Chickasaw county line, and west to the Grenada county line. The intent would be to serve Calhoun City, Derma, Vardaman, Big Creek, Slate Spring, Dentontown, Sabougla, and the rural areas generally within the territory. The proposed system would include separate dial units at Calhoun City, Vardaman, and Slate Spring. Private line service would be offered in Calhoun City, Derma, Vardaman, and Slate Spring and within about two miles outside those places. Rural customers would be on party lines, probably about 8 customers per line, but only the phone at the place called would ring, the other phones on that line would not ring.

The ad stated that no long distance charges would be imposed for any calls from one phone to another within the system. It also said that the rates for this service could not be fixed at that time but that they would be in line with other towns having similar service.

The ad said that the Company would pledge its current system as equity for the loan but that REA required an additional $63,000 of equity in order to secure the $287,000 loan needed for building the system. The Company proposed to issue Preferred Stock of the par value of $100 per share, providing for 4 percent dividends and to offer this stock to the public. Subscription lists for the stock as well as lists for prospective customers would be created. The ad asked that everyone who wanted this phone service to sign the list for service even if they don't want to buy stock. The layout of the system would be based on those who indicated that they wanted the service.

The loan apparently was secured. By 1953-54 the new dial system was being installed.