Telephone Service Comes to Patterson


In the 1870s both Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell were developing devices that could convert voice into electronic signals that could be transmitted over wires. Bell's research was intended to improve the telegraph, which had the capability to transmit electronic impulses over wires - but not actual voice. Gray and Bell both rushed their inventions to the patent office within hours of each other, launching a legal battle to determine who could take credit for the invention of the telephone. Bell filed his patent ahead of Gray, and Bell was declared the official inventor of the telephone. Commercial telephone usage grew slowly, and the first publicly issued phone directory was a single sheet of paper listing 50 names, issued in February, 1878. President Rutherford B. Hayes installed the first White House telephone, also in 1878. As telephone equipment improved and its reliability increased, more commercial and residential demand for telephone service developed as the 19th century ended.

Telephone Service Grows

Telegraph service was already available in the village of Patterson in the mid-1890s. Telephone service was already established in Putnam County in the late 19th century. In 1899, Patterson and Carmel were the only two Putnam County communities without long distance service. At the time, the Harlem River Telephone Co. owned the phone line that passed through the area and provided connection to the Village of Brewster and northern Westchester County. The company agreed to look into the feasibility of providing service to Carmel, the County seat, leaving Patterson as the only major community in the County without service.

In 1902, phone cable was being strung in the area now known as the Patterson hamlet. Many Patterson residents welcomed the service, but complained about the aesthetics of the telephone poles. On June 5, 1902, a connection was made with a long distance phone company at the offices of The Patterson Weekly News, which also served as the central telephone office for Patterson's new phone service. In July, 1902, effort was underway to bring a line to Patterson from Ludingtonville and Farmers Mills in Kent, and Peckslip in nearby Dutchess County. The Harlem River Telephone Co. began building a local network shortly thereafter, and by August, 1902, the local Patterson exchange was functioning with ten telephones operating on its circuits. A telephone pay station was established at the W.S. Crosby Store in Towners Station in October of that year. In December 1902, The Patterson Weekly News offices were moved to the then new Judd Building on Front Street, and the telephone central office moved with it.

Telephones were still new in Patterson when this ad appeared in the April 20, 1923 edition of the Putnam County Courier. Customers needed to be educated on the proper use of their equipment.

In the early 20th century telephone usage continued to grow and demand for new connections still made news since telephones were still something of a novelty. On November 21, 1930, The Putnam County Courier reported that Ralph Ness had a new telephone installed in his barbershop in Patterson. His phone number was 147. Number 146 went to the home of Mrs. Thea Baumayhr on Orchard Street. Judge Junia Dykeman had a private line installed in his home, with the number 144.

Rural phone calls needed to be completed by an operator. Early phone numbers contained a code to identify the location of the phone instrument. The number for the H. H. Bloch Dept. Store in 1920 was "18-F-3". Bloch's phone was the 18th in Patterson, and was located on the third floor of his building ("F-3"). The early phone system would also shut down at 8 PM so that the operator could go home.

In the 1930s, local telephone service was provided by New York Telephone, which through mergers evolved into Nynex, Bell Atlantic, and now Verizon. The first ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on November 6, 1931. Patterson was gripped by the Great Depression, and telephone service was viewed as a luxury expense that had to be justified against the poor economy and massive unemployment. This ad attempted to sell phone service as a convenience that would justify its cost. By January 26, 1934, when the second ad appeared in the Courier, the economy was improving and telephones were becoming affordable again.

The issuance of new telephone directories was regularly reported in area newspapers through the early part of the 20th century. The New York Telephone directory issued in June, 1929 clearly illustrated the growth in the use of telephones. 130,000 books were distributed, containing listings for Putnam and Westchester Counties in New York State, as well as the surrounding communities in both New York and Connecticut. Only 60,000 directories had been issued in the previous winter, and only 115,000 were distributed in the summer of 1928. Demand for service was clearly growing during the pre-Depression years.

News of new phone directories made the June 21, 1929 edition of the Putnam County Courier.

Self-dial service was being introduced in the Westchester communities of Bedford Village, Armonk, and Croton, and the directory contained instructions for using the new service. Dial service did not reach Putnam County for a few years more. Direct dial service came to Patterson in January, 1939.

The Post War Years

The World War II years saw limited growth in domestic telephone service because of the America's military needs. Additionally, many phone installers and lineman had been drafted into the military, creating a shortage of telephone workers. Lack of resources caused an accumulation of business and commercial orders for new telephone installations. With the end of the War in 1945, conditions improved and the telephone network began to grow again.

A wireless radio relay tower on the top of Birch Hill in Patterson was completed in August, 1945. At the time, the property was owned by Walter Merritt of New Fairfield, Connecticut. Part of his Birch Hill property later became the Walter G. Merritt County (Putnam) Park, and is now known as the Michael Ciaiola Conservation Area. A paved road to service the tower was also constructed.

New York Telephone explains its post-war strategy in this ad that appeared in the Putnam County Courier on January 16, 1947.

During the War, Federal guidelines regulated phone installations. Once the regulations were rescinded, the backlog of phone requests were filled in order of need, with public health, welfare, police, fire, and doctors receiving priority. Material shortages continued even after the War's end.

In the 1960s, non-local telephone service in Patterson was routed through Mt. Kisco, where a regional switching hub was located that linked many small communities like Patterson. Two N1 carrier lines, each capable of 12 channels, with each channel capable of carrying one phone call, stretched from Mt. Kisco up NYS Route 22 into Patterson.

Direct long distance dialing became available for Patterson's TRinity-8 and 878 exchanges on June 21, 1964. New York Telephone announced that direct station-to-station dialing was available from those exchanges to telephones throughout the United States and Canada. Other than the Pawling and Wingdale exchanges, the TR8 and 878 exchanges were the last of the exchanges serviced through the Poughkeepsie office of New York Telephone to receive direct long distance dialing. With the introduction of the new service, calls to an operator would be answered in Poughkeepsie, not Pawling. This change had critical implications for emergency calls to fire, police, and ambulance agencies. Local residents were reminded to be very specific when phoning emergency requests to an operator.

Patterson's first direct dial system utilized a "stepper switch", which was based on technology invented by Almon Strowger in 1888. His stepper switch was the basis of the rotary dial telephone. Patterson's system only required the dialing of the last four digits of a phone number when dialing within the same exchange. This scheme allowed for 10,000 phone number combinations based on those four digits, which was more than enough for rural Patterson and for the other surrounding rural areas that used the same scheme.

During the summer of 1969, New York Telephone expanded its building space in Patterson. Construction would end in the fall of 1969, with the new central office working at full capacity in early 1970. The construction was intended to meet the telephone needs of the rapidly growing Patterson community, and to provide excess capacity to meet future needs. In June, 1969, District Manager Edmund Bower spoke at the regular meeting of the Patterson Civic Association. He explained that Patterson would continue to have four rate areas, and that it was unfeasible to place all of Patterson under one telephone exchange, such as 878. Bower also explained that it was impractical to offer toll free service from Patterson into Danbury, Connecticut, because such a move would need to be negotiated with the New England Telephone Co., which serviced Danbury, and would not be cost effective. He also indicated that New York Telephone was planning to eliminate the remaining party lines in Patterson. There were still 275 rural party lines in the 878 exchange in Patterson.

In January, 1970, New York Telephone announced that over fifty percent of the customers in the 878 exchange would be switched to a new system known as "automatic number identification" (ANI). ANI was developed for billing purposes, and allowed the billing systems to receive the originating caller's phone number in a computer punch tape billing record. The ability of telephone equipment to automatically recognize the originating number had the additional benefit of allowing customers to dial outside of the local calling area without having an operator intercept the call to determine the calling party's number. A caller simply needed to dial "1" to be automatically switched to a direct dial trunk line rather than an operator assisted line. An additional twenty-five percent would be converted by the end of the spring season. Multi-party and rural party subscribers would continue under the old system because of incompatibilities in equipment.

In June, 1978, customers using the 878 exchange were converted to a new electronic switching system called "No. 3 ESS". The new equipment was housed in the New York Telephone central office building on NYS Route 311 in the Patterson hamlet. The 1,500 customers using the exchange saw improved service and features, including Touch Tone service, which was an upgrade to rotary dial service. The new switching center required changes in how numbers were dialed. Customers would no longer need to dial "1" to call outside the 878 exchange. And, customers were now required to dial a full seven digit number, even when dialing locally within the 878 exchange. Previously, customers simply needed to dial the last four digits of an 878 number. No. 3 ESS was replaced within a few years by even more sophisticated equipment in Yorktown, in Weschsester County, which operated the Patterson central office remotely.

Communications in the 21st Century

With the deregulation of the phone industry in the 1970s, Patterson residents and businesses were given more choices to meet their communications needs. Competition in local and long distance telephone service has created more options for service. Patterson's cable television provider also offers telephone service, and phone service is now available via the internet. Discount phone cards allow phone calls to be made via 3rd part resellers of phone service. In the 21st century, the most visible change in communications for Patterson residents and businesses has been caused by the growing popularity of cellular telephones. The need for improved cellular service has required the construction of new cellular towers, which has led to debates within the Patterson community over where to locate the towers because of aesthetic and health concerns.