Local History Corner June 2017

The Telephone Exchange Site

downtown_mooresville_oldphoto

compiled by Andy Poore, Local History Librarian and Special Collections Curator

In 1890, the first attempts at establishing a telephone company in the town were met with little success. In 1900, the first company was established and was housed upstairs in the Templeton building built as part of the Templeton/ Williams Roller Mill and Ginnery. The first operators were called the “hello girls” for the way they answered the phone. In addition to being operators for incoming calls, they also served as the first “emergency operators” for fire as the operators would call the fireman as needed in response to an incoming call. The exchange was equipped with a switch board that rang bells that were installed in the home of the town’s fireman. When there was a fire, or the fireman were needed, someone would call the exchange and tell them where they were and what was on fire. The operators would then look on a map to determine which fire fighters were in the closest proximity to the fire and ring a bell, located in the houses of fire fighters to alert those fire fighters to go fight the fire. This procedure stayed in place until the first town hall was built. The exchange stayed in the building until the 1950’s when it built its’ new home around the corner on Center Avenue where it is today. At one time, the lower portion of the building served as a furniture store. The building to the right was the W.N. Johnston building. Mr. Johnston and his sons ran a grocery store which was located on the first floor, a dry goods store which was located on the second floor, and a an undertaker store which was located on the third floor. Later, the family expanded into the ice and oil business, expanding the current building. The vacant lot beside the building is where the ice plant once stood. Inside the building, the second and third floors surrounded an open space that allowed light from a skylight to come in. It has been said that when someone went to purchase a coffin from Mr. Johnston’s youngest son, who was the undertaker, that the coffin was built on demand as you waited and then was lowered by pulleys through the opening to the bottom floor and then taken out through the doors. Currently, a collection of antique shops occupy the building where the telephone company used to be housed.

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