Chester telephone history

I was asked some time ago if Chester ever had any telephone booths. I hope I manage to make such a mundane story interesting.

On the upper end of Park, in the 50s and 60s, there was a phone booth. Nearby, up over Meditrina was the Park Theater. When the theater let out after a movie, kids would call their parents to come pick them up.

1912 West River Telephone Co. Directory. RP photo

There was a Vermont Transit bus stop at the drug store. Ken Barrett remembers a pay phone inside the drug store. Passengers on the bus needed access to a phone. “Come pick me up,” was the typical message. The booth on the Park saw heavy use. I remember the operator interrupting to say, “Deposit 20 cents for the next three minutes.”

I recall a phone booth between the Country Girl and the Sunoco station. Now my memory gets a little hazy so I checked with Ted Spaulding, Ken Barrett, and Danny Clemons.

I think there was a booth at Warren’s store. Today this location is Vermont Pickers on North Street. Those I checked with also think there was a booth here.

In some cases, our memories fade. I seem to recall a booth outside of town hall. Others came around to this thinking. Ken Barrett thinks the booth was on the little island in front of Salon 2000. This is probably correct.

I have a 1912 poster. Actually it’s a Chester phone directory. The photo with this art

icle is the top third of this directory. Customer’s phone numbers are listed alphabetically. You can see the name of the phone company was, “West River Telephone Co.” I estimate there are 300-350 names listed, so we know how many phones were in town at the time.

Danny Clemons remembered hearing years ago that the switchboard was in George Marsh’s kitchen. Marsh lived in the large house next to town hall. Others had no knowledge of this history. At the top of this directory at right is, “G.F. Marsh, Mgr., Chester Depot, Vt.” I’ll take Danny’s word on this.

I went to see Ted Spaulding. Here’s what I learned from Ted.

At the corner of School Street and Common Street is a brick building. Over the years this building has hosted many businesses. When I was young it was Central Vermont Power Co.

Ted said the phone company was upstairs over the power company. George Marsh owned it. I have no memory of this location. Ted thought it was in the mid-50s when they moved over near the entrance of the old high school. This location I do know. Ted said George Cahill ran installations.

I had a science project at Chester Junior High School. Mr. Clough was our science teacher. I decided to build an electronic device. I needed a transmitter so I went to the telephone location by the high school. Milton Stowell was there and eager to help when I told him my project. He unscrewed a mouthpiece from a handset and gave it to me. I completed my project with some success.

Ted said that by 1938 dial telephones had arrived in Chester. Chester prefix we know as 875 was Tremont and Springfield was Turner.

Bill Burton worked for the telephone company in the early 70s after he got out of the service. Bill remembers other pay phones in Chester. There was one at Barney’s Texaco, the old Soap Shed location. There was one at Danny’s Spaghetti House, south of Green Mountain High School on the left. There might have been one at Buzzies, the old Jiffy Mart. Bill says there were probably others that he’s forgotten.

Bill said pay phones were not profitable for the phone company. They had to pay an employee to drive around to empty change boxes. The expense of an employee and a vehicle was probably more than the income. There was an additional expense of repairing damage done by vandals. Broken glass, cut phone cords, etc.

Someone told me there was a switchboard in Larry Fuller’s house on Maple Street. His wife Evelyn was the switchboard operator.

Today pay phones are obsolete. Most everyone today has a cell phone. I do not have nor do I want a cell phone.

This week’s old saying: “Old age is best taken one day at a time.”


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