Telephones in Ellsworth

This is the story of telephones in Ellsworth
and the Ellsworth Cooperative Telephone Association.

Ida Fjetland is seen at the switchboard.

On April 19, 1902, a citizen's meeting was held at the Ellsworth City Hall to discuss the erection and operation of telephone lines south, east and west of Ellsworth.  John H. Sparboe was the temporary Chairman and M. H. Brinton, Secretary.  They were later elected as President and Secretary with Charles Knudson, Vice-Prsident and M. H. Brinton as Treasurer, also.  The seven men elected as Board of Directors were: A. O. Braland, Charles Knudson, Dan Knudson, Carl Sparboe, O. M. Sexy, J. H. Sparboe and M. H. Brinton.

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Above, you see the former home which held the telephone switchboard.  The sign on the front of this phone building (the telephone office) indicates that the switchboard, seen today in the Library's back room, was used here.  At right, the Turkey Hatchery, and Thoreson's Hardware Store are also seen.

Articles of Incorporation and by-laws were drawn.  Each member was to hold equal shares and pay $10.00 so work could be started.  Dan Knudson was named Manager.  The annual meeting was to be held the first Tuesday in February.  The company was incorporated under the laws of Iowa with capital of $10,000.00.  Nine Directors were elected - one Director for each line and two for the town.  These were: Holden Thompson, J. H. Sparboe, O. M. Lyders, Berney Peterson, John O. Anderson, Dan Knudson, F. R. Dalbey, John P. Holt, and M. H. Brinton.  The hours of service were 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.  Patrons' names were listed on cardboard for the use of the other patrons.

Stromberg-Carlson phones were used.  A. G. Watts was the lineman and Bessie Watts was the operator. 

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This telephone switchboard may be seen in the History Room of the Ellsworth Library.

In 1904, a free line to Randall was constructed and in 1905, the line to Jewell was put up.  The first "central girl".  The first directory was printed in 1906.  At this time the switchboard was in the Hotel building, Ossie Hanson being the "central girl".  This year, too, the company became known as the Ellsworth Mutual Telephone Company.  The Iowa Telephone Company provided toll service to Ellsworth, and all calls were limited to three minutes.  It was also asked that all toll calls be paid for within three days, or the operator would disconnect service.

In 1910, there were 210 shareholders in the Ellsworth Mutual Telephone Company.  In 1913, a free line to Radcliffe was erected; also, Sunday service was begun.  Board members at this time were John Thompson, E. A. Reisetter, Andrew Braland, John Langlan, Ben Peterson, Holden Thompson, Amos Hovda, B. P. Holt, J. A. Anderson, John Hagen, Joe Dahl, and Oscar Thompson.

In 1930, all company money was in the State Bank when it closed and the directors had to raise money to carry on the usual business.  They borrowed from the Farmers State Bank.  Salaries at this time had to be lowered, but by 1936, rates and salaries were raised again.  A directory was printed this year; and at the annual meeting, it was decided to build a new building, as the hotel was by now mostly torn down.

By 1947, 375 phones were in use, and this year the company cooperated in building lines to the Ralph Olsen farm for the National Plowing Match and Field Day.  The 50's saw a very important improvement being made on the lines; namely, replacing them with metallic lines for better reception on long distance calls.  This work was done entirely by Roy Ahrens, lineman.

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First mention of dial operation was made in August of 1962.  The company changed from a mutual company to a cooperative on April 30, 1963.  The Board of Directors at this time were: Bayard Holt, President; C. O. Thoreson, Vice President; Clarence Kuhl, Secretary-Treasurer; Wayne Olson, R. B. Hammond, Lloyd Swenson, Howard Pearson and Robert Thompson.  Land was purchased from Mrs. Nellie Olson for the new building, and the Dale Jacobson Construction Co. of Estherville, Iowa was hired as the Engineer.  A share was purchased in Farmers Cooperative Company, and the grain dealers' audit firm audited the books.  In April of 1964, the Garden City and Concord Telephone Company wished to be included in the Ellsworth exchange, and in May, new articles and by-laws were read.  The company now became the Ellsworth Cooperative Telephone Association.  Close to 600 subscribers were now in the system.  This was the second single party system to be built in the state of Iowa.

Outstanding developments are: direct dial on long distance in December, 1972; touch tone phones installed in 1978; and the paying of patronage capital retirement.  The company franchise was renewed on November 6, 1979.
Operators through the years have been; Ossie Hanson, Maude Hanson, Zelpha Wilson, Dagmar (Dolly) Christenson, Anna Olsen Hillestad, Dena Fjetland, Mamie Sanford, Edwina Johnson, Mrs. Emma Hesmer, Mabel Twedt, Cora Handeland, Leoan Coates, Mrs. Emma Hia, Mrs. Roy Ahrens, Mrs. Tom Peterson, Mrs. Lyle (Ina) McDonald, Mrs. Steve Amundson, Lois Anderson, Mrs. Kenneth Batchelor, and Ida Fjetland, whose term of serice dated from 1919 to 1966.
From the time of the switch over to the dial system on August 11, 1966, the office secretaries have been: Mrs. Wayne Miles, Marilyn Ubben (Mrs. John Schlafke), Mrs. Mary Kay Thoreson, and Lois Danielson (Mrs. Raymond Danielson), and Teresa Olson.
Men who have served as linemen are: A. B. Watts, Clyde Dalbey, Ross Brackney, William Espe, Charles L. Poland, Irvin Feiste, Chris Nissen and Roy Ahrens, who served from February 19, 1928, until he retired on March 1, 1961, and Elmer Olson, who became Manager in October of 1963, and retired in July of 1988.  Tom Ellwood was Manager starting July of 1988 until Josh Angove started.
Mrs. Leoan Coates, who once wrote a history of the Ellsworth Telephone Company, has an interesting feature of her report, her observation of father-son combinations who have served on the Board of Directors of the company.  They are, namely: M. H. Brinton-Scott Brinton-Wayne Brinton; A. P. Crawford-Calvin Crawford; Orm Danielson-Elston Danielson; Albert Hill-Delmar Hill; B. P. Holt-Bayard Holt; N. P. Olsen-Ralph Olsen; Sam Ostebee-Orval Ostebee; D. A. Pearson-Howard Pearson; P O. Peterson-Perry Peterson; O. A. Thoreson and sons Curtis Thoreson, W. H. Thoreson and Donald Thoreson.


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