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September 12, 2003

The story of telephone service in Noble County is fascinating partly because it helps tell how this area was settled after the Cherokee Outlet land run on September 16th, 1893. Telephones were still newfangled equipment in that era, but folks were getting used to them and soon wondered how they ever got along without them. It's the same today. We fuss about the service provided by the growing number of phone companies, and we weep and wail because robotics seem to be taking over the business office, but there is no denying that our commerce would be in a terrible state without the means of communication afforded by our telephones. So, here comes another chapter in the saga. This is from an old issue of The Perry Daily Journal.

The story of the first telephone installed in pioneer Perry is an interesting tale as it was told by E.E. Westervelt, Oklahoma manager of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, at a meeting in Perry in the early years of the 20th century. Earlier, Mr. Westervelt had been station agent for the Santa Fe Railroad in Perry. The newspaper story does not explain when this was first told. Mr. Westervelt began:

"The (first) line was put in by C.P. Walker. It was put in a month or two after the opening in 1893, September 16th. In 1897 John Noble and John Coulter built a line between Perry and Pawnee and Stillwater. The Perry office was at Howendobler's Drug Store (southeast corner of the square). In 1898 R.G. Van Cleef, E.E. Westervelt, E.D. Nims, E.E. Howendobler, L.D. Treeman and H.C. Wallerstedt agreed to put in a local exchange and had C.P. Drace, then postmaster, circulate a subscription list for telephone subscriptions and obtained quite a list. This was in the summer of 1898. About the same time John Noble stated to me that he intended to build an exchange, also. The subscription was in the name of E.E. Westervelt and associates.

"Next Noble proposed that I join him and I talked to my associates and found they did not care much about the matter so I bought their interests by agreeing to pay the expenses up to that time and I then joined Noble and Coulter and arranged that E.D. Nims would also join them and in the fall of 1898 the exchange was built and service commenced.

"Byrd Walker was the first operator and the office was in a Wolleson building on the north side of the square. (Apparently that was the building now owned by the Oklahoma IOOF Lodge organization.) There were about 100 subscriptions when the exchange opened. Rates were $2.00 for business and $1.50 for residence per month with the rate of $3.00, for both business and residence to the same person.

"In 1899 a line was built to Guthrie and in 1900 a line to Enid and a line was built from Arkansas City, Kansas, and Ponca City and Blackwell to Perry by Oklahoma Telephone Company which was connected with the exchange.

"(The) first directory was gotten out by E.D. Nims and E.D. Westervelt on a hectograph at E.D. Nims' office which was at Perry Mercantile Company. Later Arthur Whorton prepared the Directories and Whorton about 1900 or 1901 went to work for the company which was named Arkansas Valley Telephone Company at that time. Whorton worked one-half time at $40.00 a month. Balance of time for Perry Sentinel. Later he left the Sentinel and worked full time for the telephone company. In 1902 the name of the company was changed to Pioneer Telephone Company.

"In 1904 the name was changed to Pioneer Telephone and Telegraph Company and headquarters were moved to this city. Whorton became auditor and now is auditor of receipts for the company at Sonnis. (No clue is given about that location.) The name of the company became the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in 1919.

"E.D. Nims became president and general manager of the Bell system in Oklahoma. I was secretary and treasurer, general commercial superintendent, and purchasing agent. Nims retired in 1932, Noble in 1921 and I retired in 1920. Noble and myself still have an office in the telephone building. Noble is vice president and I am secretary but we are not actively engaged in telephone business."

Mr. Westervelt also added this postscript: "In 1905 the Pioneer Telephone and Telegraph Company was combined with the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company under the management of Mr. Nims, Mr. Noble and Mr, Westervelt. The account did not say what became of that merger.