From hand cranks to fiber optics PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, April 08, 2007

ESTPORT — Most would agree that cordless telephones and cell phones have made people's lives easier, but it's been a long time coming.
In the early 1900s, telephone service was a new invention that many could only dream of having one day. According to a news item in the Elizabethtown Post on Jan. 18, 1902, there was a lot of interest in situating a telephone line in Essex County.
"A very important meeting was held at the office of E.J. Sherman, Wadhams Mills, N.Y., ... to discuss the feasibility of constructing a telephone line from Reber to Wadhams Mills, from Lewis to Wadhams Mills and from Wadhams Mills to Westport village. The meeting was largely attended..." That meeting resulted in the founding of the Westport, Essex and Lewis Telephone Co.
At the annual meeting in 1903, it is noted there were about "25 miles of wire in use and 58 telephones in residences and business places, and two in railroad stations ... There have been 80 shares of stock issued and more shares spoken for."
Fast forward to 1952 when Jerry Forcier Sr. purchased what eventually became the Chazy & Westport Telephone Corp.
"The way the switchboard worked was unique," he said. "Somebody cranked their phone at their home or business. That pulled a relay up and dropped a flag telling the operator that someone was on the line. After asking for the number, the operator would plug in a wire and ring the number by hand."
Forcier said that the operators had to be on duty day and night, day after day, making it necessary for a cot to be placed nearby to be close to the switchboard.
"They were an answering service also," he added. "In a small town they knew if the doctor was out and where he was in case he had to be reached. If there was a fire, the operators had a siren signal they could engage."
When he bought the company, there were as many as 26 homes and businesses on one line. There were rules about listening in on calls but, he said, monitoring the practice would have been hard.
The rotary-dial system was introduced about 1959. In 1960, he purchased the Chazy Telephone Co., which already had dial technology. In 1980, offices were remodeled and digital came on the scene. His six children, four boys and two girls, worked in one area or another of the business. Two of the boys, Jim and Joe, started out as linemen at about 14.
Jerry's son, Jim, who is vice president of operations at Westport, has an insider's opinion of what has been called new services.
"When all this technology came along, I thought 'We've always had call forwarding and call waiting. The operators always knew where someone was and forwarded the call to that location.'"
Marketing Specialist Jennifer Pribble has spent hours researching the company's history to mark the 100-plus anniversary. She found that only stockholders were allowed to have phone service at one time.
There were time limits for visiting calls to allow businesses more time to use the few lines that were available. In 1913, all "visit calls" were limited to one five-minute call per day. So, there was not much time for gossip.
In 2005, Joe Forcier, who is vice president of operations at Chazy, compiled a history of the business and found out it was formed in stages.
There was the Westport, Essex and Lewis Telephone Co. and the Chazy Telephone Co., each from 1902 to 1960. A merger formed the Chazy and Westport Telephone Co. from 1960 to present.
Joe's brothers, Michael and Jerry Jr., are directors of business development for the family's newest venture, Westelcom, founded in 1981, now providing the latest in high-speed Internet and telephone service.
"Technology has come a long way, and it's an exciting time for us," Joseph said. "When my brothers and I started in the family business at 14, we never could have envisioned the Internet or how far technology has come, but we're planning into the future now with fiber optics. It's amazing."



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