Hello, Central! Scottsville’s operator

Hello, Central! Scottsville’s operator

Contributed by Evelyn Edson, president, Scottsville Museum

1910 Western Electric Magneto Wall Phone. Photo by Evelyn Edson.

The phone rang in the middle of the night.  Miss Edith had just taken off her heavy leg braces, gone to bed, and fallen asleep.  But she was “Central,” Scottsville’s telephone exchange, and Edith took her responsibilities seriously, so she made her painful way over to the switchboard.  It was a man, clearly drunk and mumbling. “Who are you calling?” she asked.  “I want to call Heaven,” he replied.  “And who do you want to speak to?”  “Jesus,” said the drunk.  Edith replied firmly, “Luther Baber, if you don’t get off that phone, I’m going to give you Hell!”  And she hung up on him.  The caller got so mad that he threw his phone out in the middle of the road, an act he surely regretted the next morning.

Edith Taggart was crippled by polio when she was eight years old; see Edith’s crutches at left.  She lived with her mother on the second floor of the Dorrier Building in Scottsville, 280 Valley Street, where the windows gave a good view of the passing scene, but even more information could be gleaned from her work at the switchboard that was located right in her apartment.  At that time every phone call went through an operator.  In Scottsville that was Miss Edith, who succeeded her mother at the job in 1911, when she was 13 years old.

Phone numbers were basically two digits, and most people were on a “party line” with six to eight others.  You knew the phone call was for you by the pattern of rings, such as two longs and two shorts, or three shorts.  There was, however, no way to stop other people on your line from listening in!  When you wanted to make a call, you took the receiver off the hook and cranked the phone.  The operator responded, “Number please,” and then connected your wire to the right place on the switchboard.

By 1950, the Scottsville party line phone system had grown immensely and was headed to a dial phone system by 1952.  In Scottsville, the new dialup equipment required a new plant, one that could no longer house our Central.  Edith would soon be both jobless and homeless.   In May 1950, after thirty-nine years of faithful service, being on call seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day, Edith Taggart lost her job.  Dial phones replaced the old crank phones by 1952.  The caller just dialed the four numbers of their contact’s phone number and were connected directly–no Miss Edith.  A special section of the new phone book explained to anxious callers how to use the new phones.

This led to a personal crisis, as Edith had no other income besides her work. Fortunately she had many friends in Scottsville.  Outstanding among them was Virginia Lumpkin, who moved her friend into a room in the Traveler’s Rest Hotel across the street, paying for her room and board for the next eighteen years.  Edith did what she could to help out, babysitting for Virginia’s children, Hollis and Marlean, and taking in sewing.  Before she died, Edith made one last request of Virginia:  she asked to be buried in the Scottsville Cemetery near her devoted friend and husband, the Lumpkins.  Edith died in 1968 at the age of 70 and was carried to her final rest by a group of loyal citizens:  Charlie Lenaham, Nelson Lumpkin, Dr. Moody, Milton Cohen, Gene Johnson, and two of her cousins.  Bob Spencer officiated.  Edith had saved enough money in the bank to pay for her funeral.

The information above was gathered for the Scottsville Museum for an exhibit, “Capturing Our Heritage,” in 2004.

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