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Thoughts on York County’s former telephone service

In the past, I’ve occasionally fielded Ask Joan questions, shared memories or mentioned former businesses and tried to gauge their approximate date of operation based on their phone number.

Earlier this year, I received a letter from Andrew P. Smith of Springettsbury Township, who shared some more information on that topic.

Andrew writes, “For most of the years before 1960, it [telephone service] was not very good. Telephone service for most of York County was controlled by the York Telephone and Telegraph Company, which had its headquarters at 31 South Beaver Street across from the old Bon-Ton. Its name still appears on that building, although it is no longer open to the public.”

He added, “The Hanover area was served by the United Telephone Company (now Sprint) and Fairview Township was served by Bell Telephone.”

“In 1959,” he wrote, “after much public controversy, York Telephone and Telegraph was acquired by the General Telephone Company, which began improvements in service. It subsequently changed its name to GenTel, GTE, and ultimately Verizon.”

“When my family moved to the area in 1957, we were assigned a four-digit number. This was the case for most of York County. York had five- and six-digit numbers, Red Lion had five digits, and all other parts of York County had four-digit numbers. We were on a party line. Private lines were rare and hard to get. You heard all your neighbor’s phones ring. Our ring was three short rings. It was only a few years before we moved here that phone service had been extended to our area.”

“Harrisburg and Lancaster, which were under the Bell Telephone Company, had much more advanced service and many more services were offed. York Telephone and Telegraph was just behind. Finally, in April 1964, York got a seven-digit telephone system under General Telephone Company. It became part of the 717 area code, and direct distance dialing for long-distance calls was instituted. It was five or ten years after this had been done in Bell Telephone exchanges, though.”

He concludes, “I think this history of telephone service in York County will be of interest to you. This was long before anyone had heard of cell phones, and all the other gadgets we have now.”

I was very interested! I remember even when I was younger, a friend who still had party-line service, and the home in which I grew up could not take a touch-tone phone, so we had to keep our rotary-dial one for quite some time!

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