A century of Margaretville Telephone recounted June 4

An illustrated talk, “Can you hear me now? Margaretville Telephone Company at 100,” will be presented Saturday, June 4 at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown, 778 Cemetery Road, Margaretville.

The free program, a collaboration between HSM and MTC, celebrates the centennial of the family-owned company. Vintage equipment and memorabilia will be on display and the hall will open at 6 p.m. for those who’d like to come early and have a look. Former employees and others with stories or photographs to share will be warmly welcomed.

The program, by Diane Galusha, Kendra Grocholl and long-time company manager Doug Hinkley, will offer a colorful look at the sweep of communications technology as it played out locally, from hand cranked calls made on 10-party ‘farmer lines’ to cable, fiber optic and broadband services provided to some 6500 customers now. General Manager Glen Faulkner will provide a snapshot of the company’s varied communications interests today.

The presentation uses photos and information from family members, MTC retirees, and the company archives. It will profile the people behind MTC, which began in 1916 when John Birdsall, a New Kingston farmer, purchased 16 telephone lines from the New York Telephone Company to establish the Margaretville Telephone Exchange.

John and wife Lillian first set up shop in a second floor office on Main Street, then moved to a house on Swart Street where they installed a switchboard to allow customers to call outside their local lines.  In 1920, they acquired the tiny Andes Telephone Company and maintained a separate switchboard there until 1948.

In 1933, the company passed to the Birdsalls’ son Sheldon and his wife Madeline (Madge), and in 1963 to Shel and Madge’s daughter Dawn Roadman and her husband Keene. The Roadmans’ children, Larry and Karen, continue as Directors of MTC, which is one of 23 independent, family-owned telephone companies in New York State.

The talk will show how MTC persisted and expanded through wars, storms, recessions and the claiming of the East Branch Valley for the Pepacton Reservoir. Hear how operators slept on a cot next to the switchboard to provide night service; how linemen have been tested by the worst weather Mother Nature can dish out, and how repair crews learned to expect the unexpected, like snakes in the coin box.

This presentation is part of Headwaters History Days, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway Signature Event of the Town of Middletown For more information, visit www.headwatershistorydays.org.