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The Nappanee Telephone Company with Special Guest Historian

Bill Warner
August 28, 2020
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Today’s blog post includes some great insight from local historian, Martha Owen, of the Nappanee Public Library’s Evelyn Lehman Culp Heritage Collection. Martha is the Collection Manager at the Nappanee Center, which is a phenomenal local history museum housed inside our city’s welcome center at 302 West Market Street in Nappanee. We encourage you to make sure it’s on your itinerary when visiting Coppes Commons (or your must-do list as a Nappanee resident too!) In the meantime, you can access the collection’s online database of photos and historic walking tours of Nappanee HERE.

And now, without further ado, we present to you this week’s “Bill’s History Corner!”– Jessica Flores, Media & Marketing Specialist, Coppes Commons.

Hello everyone, welcome to another exciting Bill’s History Corner. We are still sifting through the boxes of old company receipts that were found stored in the factory. What a treasure. 

This latest box is from 1908-1912. The Nappanee telephone was becoming an important business in Nappanee in 1911.

Martha tells us that the Nappanee Telephone Company was established in 1898, thanks to a campaign launched by local businessman, Claude Stoops, who had come to town in 1888 to open a jewelry store. With much talk about an exchange, Stoops appeared in front of the town board in June 1898 asking for a franchise for setting poles and stringing wires. Up until this time, only private telephone lines had been “rigged up” across town, one of which was between the Coppes Bros. and Zook flour mill and the office at the main furniture plant. It is thought that there was also a line from the Coppes Hotel (owned by brother, Samuel Coppes) to the train depot. Before this, daily records were transported by hand.

The initial installation of telephone company lines in 1898 consisted of 52 telephones with an ultimate capacity for 100 telephones. The 1st switchboard was installed in Mr. Stoops’ Jewelry Store and all the business was handled by one operator from 7:00 am – 9:00 pm. Then, with its exchange in operation, Nappanee Telephone Company made arrangements to connect to the Independent Company, stringing wires in October 1898 to Goshen.

By 1916, the phone company had experienced rapid growth with 720 telephones in service and over 12,000 feet of cable. There were 6 operators and 2 lineman employed, so the Telephone Company was able to provide 24-hour service. By this time, Mr. Stoops had given up his jewelry store and devoted all of his time to the Telephone Company.

Photo courtesy of the Evelyn Lehman Culp Heritage Collection

We have found a stack of receipts from the Nappanee Telephone Co. It appears that each prominent member of the C, Z & M Co. management team had a telephone in their office. In 1911 the rental for each telephone was $1.00 per month. Long distance calls were recorded by hand (probably at the telephone office by the operator). In the early days of the telephone exchange, long distance calls could only be made at the Coppes Hotel, which held the only toll station in town. 

Looks like the average cost for one long distance call was between .15 and .20 cents. The record does not record the length of time the call lasted, just the date, caller, to whom, place, the tolls for that call, and in the final column is either initials of the callers to indicate if the call was actually a business expense, or the building to charge the call to, or maybe a personal call. 

And here’s a photo of Nappanee’s first telephone, which now hangs in the Nappanee Center.

Photo courtesy of the Evelyn Lehman Culp Heritage Collection

Thanks again for the assistance provided by the Evelyn Lehman Culp Heritage Collection on this post!