The phone is coming to town


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How many times do you communicate with your phone each day? I can bet it’s multiple times. It’s hard to imagine our lives today without a phone, right? A little over a century ago, there were no telephones in Opelousas.

Let’s talk about it.

We all learned in school that the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. However, there was a lot of controversy over the invention of the telephone. It appears that five other people played a role in what led to this invention. But in the end, Bell won the legal battles and is therefore credited with the invention of the telephone on March 10, 1876.

On that date, he successfully spoke to his assistant by phone saying, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you. A year later, the first telephone line was completed between Boston and Somerville, Massachusetts – and the rest is history.

The popularity of the telephone increased in the following years, and by 1880 there were over 47,000 telephones in the United States. In 1884, a telephone line operated between New York and Boston. New York and Philadelphia were connected in 1885, Atlanta and Chicago in 1890, and New York and Chicago in 1892.

It wasn’t long before the phone arrived in Louisiana and finally in Opelousas.

The telephone first arrived in the Opelousas area in the 1890s. Local newspapers reported in the spring of 1893 that the Teche and Vermillion Telephone Company had extended its lines through Opelousas to Ville Platte.

In 1895, the Opelousas Police Council granted the Opelousas Telephone Company the right to install poles in town to establish a telephone system. A telephone office, which also included a telegraph office, was established around this time in an upstairs room of the bank building where a female operator was hired to look after both. It didn’t take long for local businesses to advertise; they had phones and could do business over the phone.

Soon after, Allie Burton Pickett arrived at Opelousas from Wisconsin in an automobile – perhaps the city’s first car – and opened a telephone exchange which he called the Bertha Telephone Company. According to local reports, when it opened, Bertha’s office was located in Block 100 of East Bellevue Street.

In 1900, the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company was established in Opelousas, with around 300 telephones. The office of this company was located in the building known as the Barnette Building, at the corner of Main and Landry streets. In 1906, the Cumberland Company bought the Bertha Telephone Company. In 1925, the Cumberland Telephone Company merged with Southern Bell. The Bell system has served Opelousas and the region for many years.

One of the first telephone operators at Opelousas was Izola Fontenot, who later became Mrs. ASJ Campbell. She worked for the Bertha Telephone Company. In 1902 the company had another operator when Annie Downey was hired. In 1906, when Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph purchased the Bertha Telephone Company Kit Thompson, Mrs. JA Shaw was hired as an operator. Izola Fontenot continued to work for the company as an emergency operator for several years and Annie Downey worked until 1917.

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According to locals, the first business telephone was installed in the 1890s at Opelousas at Perrodin’s Hall, located on Main and Grolee streets. This building was then sold and became that of JB Sandoz. In 1895 the St. Landry Clarion newspaper office on Bellevue Street had a telephone, and by 1900 there were 300 telephones connected to Opelousas. In 1920, the number of telephones increased to 480 telephones. In 1940 there were 1,396 telephones and by 1955 Opelousas had a total of 6,200 telephones.

Through the efforts of the Opelousas Kiwanis Club, the first rotary telephone was installed in Opelousas in 1940. Kiwanis members traveled around town to sign petitions to local telephone subscribers asking for the new system. The telephone office with all new dialing equipment was located in a one-story brick structure on Landry Street.

On Saturday July 13, 1940, the Southern Bell Telephone Company put this equipment into service. Lawyer Seth Lewis dialed the first local call and Opelousas Mayor David Hollier made the first long distance call through the new system.

In the early 1950s, the business office was moved to a new brick building on Bellevue and Market streets. Since that time we have seen a lot of changes on our phones.

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Today the whole world is connected by telephone. Most people don’t have just one phone at home, but quite a few of them in different rooms and others in the workplace. And almost everyone has a cell phone that can go anywhere and contact anyone.

Who would have imagined a century ago that the telephone would evolve into what it is today? We are fortunate to be able to pick up a phone anytime and communicate with our family, friends and anyone we want to contact. So the next time you use your phone to make a call or text, think back to those days long ago when just being able to talk on the phone was something most Opelousas people could do. dream.

Let’s talk about Opelousas again.

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