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Telephones Come To Folkston

By Lois Barefoot Mays

(Miss Pauline Herrin is seated at the Folkston telephone switchboard. The light for the room is a bare light bulb on a cord, a round mirror hangs on the wall behind the operator and through the open window is seen the east wall of  Main Street’s Folkston Pharmacy. Not shown is the wooden telephone booth, complete with folding door, directly behind Miss Herrin, where long distance calls were made.)

It’s been nearly a hundred years since the ring of the first telephone in Folkston was heard. H.J. Davis in the summer of 1908 connected his store, in the business district of the little village, with his home several blocks away and the first messages over these wires were domestic calls, letting the family know when he was closing in the evening and finding out what he was going to eat for supper that night. This was a luxury no other family in town enjoyed. But they could claim this for only three years as this new invention was soon to spread over Folkston and the rest of the world.

In an effort to put communities in touch with one another, about two years later, in May 1910, Southern Bell Telephone installed Folkston’s first long-distance phone in the drug store of Dr. J.C. Wright. This was on the corner of Main and First Streets where the first Citizens Bank building is located and this phone served the whole town, being used only for extremely urgent matters.

By July 1911 the Folkston Telephone Co. was busy putting up poles and crossbars with W.L. O’Cain in charge of the job. About six months later Miss Essie Robinson was day operator and Nord Williams, popular young man, had the night shift. Folks complained that although he was kept busy answering calls, he spent much of his time “chunking oranges and apples, chewing gum and candy kisses, out of the front and back windows, to his lady friends.” It was claimed that before he was hired he broke into the central office and had a chat with every girl on the line.

Homeland and Folkston homes were joined in sending voices over the wires in early 1913, connecting friends and businesses in these two towns. And then by August of that year, J.V. Gowen had his own phone line in operation from Folkston to Traders Hill. The newspaper editor that week commented that “It is quite the thing for Folkston and Traders Hill to be joined together, and may the winds, rain or lightning never put them asunder.”

The dreaded alarm of “Fire!” in March 1915 brought considerable excitement, for the telephone exchange room in the bank building was in flames, caused by a defective wood stove. The quick alarm saved the building with only a small loss.

The stockholders of the Folkston company couldn’t agree on how to run this business and a crisis was reached  in March 1917 when a sheriff’s sale was held at the courthouse and the fifty-phone capacity Sumpter telephone switchboard, with about two miles of telephone wires, cross-arms, insulators and all the telephone poles, were auctioned to satisfy the 1916 taxes of $6.75. Mr. L. Parker of Odum, Ga. had the successful bid.

In 1918 the Bell Telephone Co moved their long-distance telephone to T.L. Pickren’s grocery store on Main Street. The phone rang so seldom, that when it’s bell clanged, everyone in the store froze like statues, fearful of the news it would carry.  Most of the messages coming over the wires were bad news -  such as deaths or severe injuries to an out-of-town loved one. Mr. Pickren usually answered the phone, took the message, then hung up.  If there was news for someone living in Folkston, Mr. Pickren caught the first boy coming by the store that looked like he could run fast, gave him a nickel and sent him to the home with the message he had received. If the news was for a family living in the county, he immediately rode out there and delivered it personally.

Intense research does not show us where the first telephone exchange was located but we do know that by 1915 it was on the upper floor of the old Bank of Folkston building across the street from the yellow-brick old Citizens Bank building on Main Street. There was also a small apartment on the bank’s top floor and some of the operators lived there. An inside stairway beginning on the west side of the building leads to the upper floor. At one time, during World War II,  there was an outdoor stairway to the telephone exchange on the eastern side of the building.

The telephone company was sold several times, being known as the Union Telephone Co. in 1927 and purchased by J.K. Larson, who also owned several other exchanges. This was a time of expansion for the company as new lines were installed that connected Folkston, Homeland, Traders Hill and the Paxton Place. In 1931 L. Parker assumed control of the business again and the Parker family owned it for  many years after that.

Among those who have served as the operator or “Central” and tended the “telephone station” during the years were Miss Essie Robinson, Nord Williams, Albert Phillips, a Mrs. James, Mrs. J.P. Dell, Mrs. M.J. Jordan, Miss Bessie Lee Davis, a Mrs. Pope, Miss Culling Parker, Miss Doris Nazworth, Miss Audrey Mae Mizell, Mrs. Estelle Ward, Miss Helen Ward, Miss Ruby Davis, Mrs. Frances Millar and Miss Nettie Keene who was Central for a long time as well as a teacher for many years at the  Winokur school.

When Hercules Powder Co. brought a cluster of families to Folkston in the middle 1930s, telephone poles were put on the right of way from the courthouse to the new neighborhood and these families then also enjoyed communicating by phone.

Mr. Parker built a small tool shed near the exchange building but never bothered to put a lock on it as he had didn’t have any trouble with vandalism or stealing. But he got disgusted with “borrowing” and finally put a notice in the county paper  asking that all gentlemen who had borrowed his stepladders, tools, etc. from his shed to please return same without delay as he needed them in his business. He said “The rascals always return borrowed tools but the gentlemen almost always forget.”

Telephones may have been a novelty luxury about a hundred years ago, but it’s much different now. They are an absolute necessity for our way of life in the twenty-first century.


Charlton County Herald

May 12, 1910

Are you ready for the census man,  have you read Greer’s Almanac?

Do you suffer with the toothache, do you have pains in your back?

How many children have you,  do they all stay at home?

Do you have a father, mother,  if so, where were they born?

Do you pay up prompt your debtors,  have you figured up your cash?

Did you ever find a spider in a plate of beef hash?

Don’t you think there’s a microbe in some cavity of your lung?

Were you raised in this country,  were you born very young?

When you was a tiny infant,  did you kick or squirm?

Did any of your ancestors ever die of hookworm?

Also, give me your house number,  and the spelling of your name,

Do you wear a porous  plaster,  do you walk a little lame?

Have you any corns or bunions,  do you get drunk and swear?

Did you vote for Brown or Hoke,  what’s the size of shoes you wear?

Have you ever seen the comet,  what’s the length of its tail?

Are any of your children cross-eyed,  have you ever been in jail?

How long have you been married,  did you marry all your wives?

Are you friendly with your neighbors,  have the kids had sore-eyes?

Were you ever known to work,  are you blind, deaf or dumb?

You just as well look pleasant,  for facts will have to come.

Above and lots of other questions  you will surely have to tell,

What you think of old Annanias,  is he now in heaven or hell?

Better count up pigs and chickens,  figure up debts and sins,



May 4, 1911

Verily in this day and generation the father raiseth up his son on the streets and sidewalks.

He layeth around the soda fountain and inbibeth slop and hookworms. He groweth in knowledge of nothing save cigarettes and cuss words.

When he attaineth the age of sixteen, he acquireth a suit of clothes turned up at the bottom two furlongs about his feet. He displays a pair of noisy socks with purple background and violets to the front.

He weareth low-cut shoes, also a green tie. He looketh like a banana merchant on the streets.

The inside of his head resembleth the inside of a pumpkin.

He falleth in love with a spindle-shanked girl with a pink ribbon in her hair and he craveth for an automobile that he may ride forth in the springtime.

He thinketh work is sinful. He scattereth his mother’s pin money like a cyclone scattereth a rail fence.

He sitteth up at night to write poetry and giveth no thought to the multiplication table. His mind turneth to the vanities of life and not to the high cost of cornbread.

Verily, verily, he needeth a board applied vigorously to the southwest quarter of his anatomy.

He thinketh his father a plodder and his mother a back number.

He pictureth to himself great riches suddenly acquired. He dreameth of steam yachts and private cars. Yea, he thinketh himself the real stuff.

He butteth in where he is not wanted, he criticizeth his elders.

He purchaseth cheap perfume and smelleth louder than a billy goat.

When he groweth up he getteth a job as a clerk in a store at a dollar a day and swipeth extra change from his boss till he is caught.

You’ll have to tell them all when the census man comes in!

from DeBrahm's Report
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