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170 Howard Street 
PO Box 248
Ocracoke Island, NC 27960  
252-928-5541
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Ocracoke Newsletter

February 21, 2014

The Telephone Comes to Ocracoke (1956)


The first residential telephone service on Ocracoke Island was established by Carolina Telephone & Telegraph Company in 1956. The charge was $5.00/month. Nearly everyone in the village subscribed...and the few holdouts soon signed on as well. Originally the telephones operated via ship-to-shore shortwave radio frequency. The tower was erected at the old Wahab Village Hotel (now Blackbeard's Lodge). A room was added to the hotel to house the equipment.

In the early days private telephone transmissions could sometimes be heard by neighbors over their radios or televisions!

Today, Ocracoke’s land line telephone service operates via microwave transmission. The tower and equipment building are on Cedar Road (also known as the Bank Road).

When I was a youngster there was only one telephone on the island -- at the Coast Guard station. According to cousin Blanche the US Coast Guard had a ship-to-shore radio telephone as long as she can remember, probably from the time of the construction of the village station in 1905.

 

The following article by Woodrow Price appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer in 1956.

“Ocracoke, June 15 – The last link in Ocracoke’s telephone system was completed today when the local exchange was tied in to the long distance lines in the Carolina Telephone and Telegraph system.

“Utilities Commissioner Sam Worthington of Greenville closed the switch which completed the tie-in. The ceremony took place at Wahab Village Hotel [Blackbeard’s Lodge] before approximately 35 or 40 islanders, company officials, and tourists.

“The island has been enjoying long distance service since January 14, when three telephones were connected to the mainland by way of short wave radio from a tower on the island to another at Engelhard They have been basking in the luxury of local telephone service for two weeks.

“In that two weeks, they have made a total of 9,390 calls local. The first day more than 1,700 calls were put in as neighbors rushed to chat with each other over the new gadget and ordered their groceries from the store.

So many of them decided to buy by telephone that Jesse Garrish [owner of the Community Store], who had put his telephone in the office, quickly decided to transfer it to a counter up front, where it would be more quickly accessible.

Already, 88 local telephones have been connected to the automatic exchange, which operates at the rear of the Wahab Village Hotel. This means that more than half the island phones [homes] already have telephone service.  

“L.W. Hill of Tarboro, president of the CT&T, said in a brief talk before the switch was closed today that his company has about $100,000 invested in the Ocracoke exchange. The venture is not profitable now and may never be, he said, because of the island terrain and the high cost of maintaining service. For instance, it is planned to fly service men in whenever any trouble develops.

“Hill said the company’s investment here is approximately $1,100 per telephone compared to an average in the company system of a little more than $400.

“This was the 111th exchange to be activated by CT&T.

“Besides President Hill, other company officials on hand for the occasion included Dail Holderness, vice president, secretary and treasurer; Jack Havens, vice president in charge of public relations; W.D. Marshall of New Bern, district commercial manager; A.N. Mason, general plant manager; C.R. Jones, chief engineer; Earl Baker, local manager; and John Reed of the advertising and public relations division. Robert Lyday of Rocky Mount, district representative for the Automatic Electric Co., also attended.

“Utilities Commissioner Worthington was accompanied by Ralph Moody, another member of the Commission. In a short talk before he threw the switch, Worthington said, ‘We realize as the regulating agency of this and other companies that projects of this kind are not profitable, but sometimes are necessary for the welfare and safety of a community.’

“One factor contributing to the relatively high cost of the installation here was the fact the company decided to bury its lines instead of running them overhead. This was done because of the danger of hurricane winds and also because of the effects of erosion [corrosion?] on overhead installations.”

Ocracoke Island's 1956 Telephone Directory (Cover & Two Pages):

 1956 Telephone Directory Cover

1956 Telephone Directory Page 1

1956 Telephone Directory Page 2

The following story was told to me by Ocracoker, Al Scarborough. 

Helen Dixon Fulcher was 84 years old when telephones were introduced to the island.  The CT&T salesman tried to convince Helen to purchase a telephone.  “No,” she said, “I don’t see any use for one of those newfangled gadgets.”  The salesman, realizing that Helen was advanced in years, tried to entice her by pointing out that she could use the telephone to contact a neighbor if she became ill or had an accident and needed assistance. 

Helen pointed out that all of her neighbors were old and frail.  Miss Maude Fulcher, Helen explained, was in her seventies and “not doin’ too good.”  Big Ike was nearing ninety.  He had one foot in the grave. He wouldn’t be much help if she called on him.  Charlie Scarborough was almost eighty, and his wife Sue was not far behind.   Helen certainly couldn’t count on them for help. 

The salesman persisted, saying he could “connect” her and she’d be grateful for it. 

Finally, in desperation, she averred that she’d agree if he could just connect her directly to “Glory.”

Eventually Helen gave in and subscribed to telephone service.  She would dial a number, but her eyesight was failing, and she’d often misdial.  Of course, everyone she connected to on the island was someone she knew.  The other party would try to explain that she’d dialed the wrong number, but Helen insisted she’d dialed correctly.  Not fully understanding how the telephone system worked, Helen would explain in an exasperated voice that she was calling so-and-so, and would the person she was now talking too “please not pick up the phone the next time I call.”

 

*According to his obituary, Woodrow Price (1914-2000) was a “reporter,” a “superb newspaperman,” “former managing editor of the News & Observer and an avid outdoorsman who helped establish the Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout national seashores….” 

 


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