Northwestern Telephone Company and North Platte’s First Telephones

Written By: nppladmin - Feb• 18•22
Originally published to on February 18, 2022.

Welcome Facebook Friday History Readers! Last week, we talked about Fred Marti, who sold part of the 100 W 4th Street block to Northwestern Telephone Company. This week (part 2), we are going to talk about the development of the telephone and the impact it had on North Platte, Nebraska. And, did you know that when they dug the foundations for buildings in the 100 block of west 4th Street, that they found skeletons/human remains? The end of this post will also share the newspaper articles on those “construction hazards,” as well as the 1959 expansion of the Northwestern telephone building. Read on!

One can hardly remember the days of “long distance,” much less having to use an operator to connect a phone call. Cell phones have revolutionized our society. Likewise—the actual invention by Alexander Graham Bell, the telephone, dramatically connected people and was just as revolutionary as the cell phone.

Today’s post comes from “City Bones: Landmarks of North Platte” by Kaycee Anderson and Steve Olson. Second edition. Published and Funded by the Lincoln County Historical Museum. 2012.

“The history of the telephone in North Platte began in 1895 when Oliver Wentworth Sizemore, a former telegraph operator from Evansville, Indiana, decided to install the first telephone. According to the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune, printed on September 30, 1930, Sizemore was a follower of Alexander Graham Bell and Bell’s invention of the telephone. Sizemore had assembled a few crude telephone sets by the time he settled in North Platte, but he didn’t install an actual telephone until 1895; when he outfitted Dick Bank’s Livery Stable with a telephone device.

The telephone’s popularity was immediate, so he installed one in the A.F. Streitz Drug Store, in Charley Ling’s Lumber Yard, in the Newton Book store, and in Clinton’s Jewelry Store.

These first telephones were connected by iron wire, and, according to the paper, “Service was far from perfect, especially in rainy weather.”

The following year, Sizemore announced the installation of a switchboard in the rear of his barbershop at 116 East Front Street. Many businessmen were ready to install phones in their businesses and Sizemore’s “phone company” saw rapid growth. Within a few months, business became so great Sizemore had to move his telephone office to a room over Tom Green’s Pool Hall at 618 N Dewey Street. Sizemore operated his switchboard at this location for seven years.

In 1903, Sizemore sold his business to George P. Field. Three years later, in 1906, Field sold the business to E. M. Leflang. Nebraska Telephone company bought the business in 1909 and son merged with Northwestern Bell Telephone Company. The expanding company located new equipment and additional workers at 611 ½ North Dewey Street in the Waltemath Building.

North Platte was growing rapidly and in order to keep up with demand. Northwestern Bell decided to build larger quarters. On Friday, August 8, 1928, it was announced in the North Platte Evening Telegraph that Fred Marti had sold his lot on the corner of Vine and Fourth Streets to Northwestern Bell for $13,000. Marti, a local butcher, had 60 days to move his home from the corner.

It was estimated that building would be built in similar fashion and for a similar cost to their Kearney building. That building cost $100,000. The Evening Telegraph announced that excavation for the new building would begin on November 1, 1928, even though the construction plans weren’t finalized.

On Saturday, December 28, 1928, the Crawford Company of North Platte was awarded the contract for all the electrical work. The digging of the basement had been started and work would begin within the next thirty days. During the following two years, streets and alleyways were torn up so cable line could be installed in the new building.

At 10:12 a.m. on Monday, September 29, 1930, it was announced that the switchboard was activated in the new building. The old switchboard on the second floor of the Waltemath Building would soon be shut down. Several phone conversations were in progress during the changeover, however, there were no interruptions during the transition from old to new.

The North Platte Community was treated to guided-tours during the grand opening for the new building held October 7, 1930. North Platte had grown from a town with 300 telephones in 1909 to a community with over 2900 telephones when the new building was completed. The “hello girls” at the phone company were averaging between 14,000 and 15, 000 calls in a twenty-four hour period.”

A couple of additions by this researcher:

On March 5, 1940, the newspaper ran an article with the headline, “City’s First Burial Place is unearthed: Located at Fourth and Vine.” Theodore Lowe was in the process of having his office building at 121 West 4th Street constructed, formerly the site of the Fred Marti home. In digging the basement for the Lowe building, the construction crew unearthed 6-8 skeletons in what was apparently the city’s first cemetery. This early cemetery was abandoned in 1871, when North Platte was just a frontier village. The article goes on to mention that when digging the foundation for the Northwestern Telephone building, several skeletons were found at that time as well.

So what did they do with the skeletons, in 1940? Well, the article states that the bodies were left and re-covered with soil and the buildings built on top of them.

You will see in the Circa 1940’s telephone building, that the facility was originally a two-story building. The January 31, 1959 edition of the Telegraph-Bulletin (North Platte) dedicated the front page to the new 3rd floor expansion and new technology. By the third page, the Don Musgrove Construction company has a clear picture of the newly expanded, three floor facility. The cost of adding the third for was $220,000

My how times have changed. We hope you enjoyed our look back at the telephone, Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, and Fred Marti! Keep reading!

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