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Dialing up history PDF Print E-mail
Written by SUSAN TOBIAS, Staff Writer   
Sunday, April 08, 2007

MALONE — The early 1900s ushered in telephone service to many northern New York towns.
An article in the 1981 edition of the Franklin Historical Review, printed by the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society, covers the history of what was known as the Gleason Line, the first known telephone service in Franklin County.
Ernest C. Gleason and Sanford Child, two local farmers, owned the first telephone company to service the southern Malone area as far as Lake Titus. The first pole was set in 1904 at the corner of Webster and Woodward streets in Malone, with the digging done by hand. Eighty-five families were served. In some areas, the lines had to be hung in the trees.
The partnership continued until Sanford died and his share passed to Ralph Child. In 1928, Gleason purchased Child's interest. At 88 years old, Gleason was still climbing the poles to maintain service. He died at 93.
According to the author, Raida Child, the first call on the completed lines, Aug. 21, 1905, was to Dr. Grant, announcing the pending birth of Sarah Parker.
The lines were connected in Malone to Northern New York Telephone Corp., located in the Howard Block at the corner of Washington and Main streets. The Gleason Line paid $1 per month per customer for use of their lines, an agreement that lasted 45 years. Installation cost was $3.50, moving a phone was $3 and a one-year rental amounted to $20. Child noted that some customers paid for the use of the phone with eggs and potatoes.
During the early years of the company, a horse and buggy was the repairman's only work vehicle. The next "service vehicle" was the Model T Ford, which at times could carry a 12-foot pole on the right fender. Child states that the driver was usually Mary McPherson, Ernie's daughter. She made repairs and collected fees as she traveled around the area.
A check of the 1947 Numerical Telephone Directory for Malone shows that telephone numbers were much different than today. H.D. Thompson and Co. had the number "1." The State Armory was number "13" while the Hotel Flanagan Cocktail Lounge was assigned "20." Roy Flying Service was "24J" and C.J. Hayden was "32W." Depending on the number, the telephone would strike a series of long and short rings. It became second nature to distinguish if the ring was for your house or someone else who was on the same line as you. It wasn't unusual to "listen in" on the line, just to see if the call was for your house, of course.
Tragedy struck the Gleason Line when, in 1923, Robert Gleason, son of the founder, was electrocuted while repairing a line. A wire from a pole crossed the road under an electric power line. As the uninsulated electric line was sagging, it made contact with the wire, causing Gleason's death.
In later years, Ernest S. Gleason, the founder's grandson, and his wife, Gwen, continued to operate the company. Duties of the telephone business took Ernest away from his farm work too much and in 1949 the company was sold to New York Telephone Co.

 

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