Coleman County Telephone Cooperative
According to A History of Coleman County and Its People, the first telephone line in Santa Anna was built in 1892 from Brownwood to Santa Anna’s Melton Hotel, which stood across the street west from Santa Anna National Bank. It was a private line owned by Henry Collingsworth, who constructed the first local exchange. He sold it a few years later to A. U. Weaver, who modernized the system and extended it to the county seat.
Soon, Weaver sold the Santa Anna Telephone Company to D. J. and George Johnson, who continued serving the area in and around Santa Anna. Other small communities, such as Rockwood and Burkett, had their own private exchanges, usually run out of the owner’s home.
The early-day operators of these systems were important members of the town. Without these ladies, no calls could be made. The picture shows operators as they went about their jobs, at the time of the picture in an area on the second floor of the Bank. In many cases, no calls were placed after the operator went off duty, sometimes at 6:00 p.m.
To reach the operator, a person making a call turned the crank on the side of the phone. The operator answered by plugging in a wire to the caller’s socket and asking to whom the caller wished to speak. She then connected another plug into the called person’s socket and signaled the called party by turning a crank on her switchboard. When the called person answered, a connection was made to the caller by the two plugs. These wires can be seen on the boards in front of the operators. The operator on the right is Bobbie Wilson, my great aunt. Her switchboard is still at the Coop office.
Lines were practically all “party”, or shared, lines, so people had specific rings designating to whom the call was made. A party’s ring might be one long–one short, or maybe two shorts—one long, or so on. This made for somewhat open communication, for everyone on the “party” line heard the ring. It was an honor system that no one would pick up the receiver unless it was the correct ring. Honor sometimes took a back seat to grist for the gossip mill. It was not until late 1977 that all lines in all exchanges in Coleman County were made private lines.
In 1949 Congress passed legislation allowing the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) to get into the business of extending telephone service to unserved rural areas. The next year Coleman County Farm Bureau set up a telephone committee to see if such a plan was feasible here. It was quickly determined that it was.
On April 17, 1953, the state of Texas chartered the Coleman County Telephone Cooperative with George Johnson, owner of the Santa Anna Telephone Company, as the first manager. The Board of Directors moved to take options to purchase local, private exchanges in Trickham, Rockwood, Gouldbusk, Fisk, Valera, and Santa Anna. In June of 1954, the REA loaned $540,000 to the Coop to buy these exchanges and update them by eliminating all the old magneto (crank) type phones.
The first new style service system went into operation in September 1957. This was when dial phones replaced picking up the receiver and hearing the operator say, “Number, please.” The last human operator in Coleman County retired in 1963. That year, the Coop moved across the street from its old building into its brand new plant facility and offices, where its offices are today.
According to the Santa Anna News of September 17, 1964, Allyn Gill, the second manager, guided the Coop to purchase the Burkett private exchange in 1958 and the Glen Cove exchange in 1964. Gill served as manager from 1955 till 1967 when Thomas Wristen, Jr., took the job. Wristen served till 1983 when Danny Kellar came on board, followed by Mike Walton in 1998 and Tim Humpert in 2008. Since the Coop became an internet service provider in 1989, other updates for the 280 square mile service area have come at an increasingly rapid pace.
1892 to 2017—one hundred twenty-five short years since the first telephone in Santa Anna. From one telephone for the whole town to each person with a personal, portable phone with internet access on it. Immediate access to help for a solitary person out in the back pasture. If the next century of communications development in Santa Anna is as eventful as the last, it’s going to be remarkable.