Oneonta’s telephone history

While collecting material for a book, I recorded Oneonta’s telephone history. I’m sharing part of it because it developed into the story of one of the amazing families in Blount County. We owe a lot to the Corr family for our communication needs and their hard work. The Corr family founded the Oneonta Telephone Company in 1933.

These accounts came from a 1997 interview with R. C. “Corky” Corr Jr. in Oneonta. He supplied material and a copy of the earliest archive 1929 phonebook he had. He told many stories about the progress of his company and the story about his family. I gave a booklet of the story and a copy of the 1929 phonebook to the Blount County Memorial Museum, and it is now on display for viewers.

A telephone system of sorts was first installed in Oneonta in 1909. Only the affluent, who were businessmen, could have a telephone. Only a few had one and could talk to each other downtown. It was located in a wooden building at the corner of First Avenue East and Third Street, across from old V.J. Elmore’s 5 & 10 Cents Store.

From a story published by The Southern Democrat on Feb. 18, 1909, a “do-it-yourself” small telephone system (constructed from a manual on sale to anyone).” Mr. H.C. McPherson ordered the manual and, from it, built a person-to-person telephone company through his store with only a small number of phone instruments.

The news came, The Southern Democrat headlines of July 21, 1910, were “TELEPHONE EXCHANGE FOR ONEONTA – A telephone exchange is to be installed in Oneonta by Mr. H.C. McPherson. The equipment has been ordered and was expected that the exchange will be in operation in sixty or ninety days.”

The little system “kept growing until it had thirty-five numbers. Phone number one was given to the drug store and its pharmacy, Dr. F.G. Donehoo.” This was on the corner of First Avenue and Second Street.

McPherson later placed his telephone exchange in the middle of town and secured the second floor of the Blount County Bank (later know as McPherson Jewelry Store, owned by himself and his son, H. C. [Clark] McPherson Jr.) next to Miller Drug). The new exchange’s location had alleyways and were soon loaded with banks of overhead wires terminating in the back of the building.

The telephone system improved by adding rural lines and long distance connections through Southern Bell. McPherson upgraded the system again in May 1912. The badly needed electric power came to Oneonta in July, 1913, a boost for telephones. The Please-U Theatre opened its electric light show in Oneonta (across from Miller Drug).

The Corr family worked hard and served a lot of people through its communications operations. R. C. “Corky” Corr Jr. died June 22, 2001. His family is no longer involved in the industry.

Aulden Woodard

127 St. Marks Drive, Goose Creek, SC 29445