By Sterling McGinn
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, telephone or “Hello Systems” were in high demand for rural areas and small towns across the country.
A phone system was first installed in Newberry in 1904, but it wouldn’t be until three years later that a company would be established to offer phones in rural Lakefield.
Not much is known of the history of the Lakefield Telephone Company. Brown ink penned in minutes books recorded by company secretary Otto Sanderlin provides the only information.
On October 30, 1907, a meeting was held at the Smathers School in Lakefield Township to organize a telephone system. Frank Rickerd, who lived in Laketon, a community west of McMillan, was elected temporary chairman. Those in attendance decided to form a corporation under the laws of the State of Michigan. Those in attendance decided to form a corporation under the laws of the State of Michigan.
At the following meeting, held on January 4, 1908, the board voted to name the new corporation the Lakefield Telephone Company. According to the original minutes book, a capital stock of $1,050 was created, divided into 70 shares, and sold at $15 each.
The following officers were elected at the January 4, 1908 meeting: George Smathers, president; Otto Sanderlin; secretary; John Richard; treasurer; and trustees, J. Hallbrook, Robert Bryers Sr., and John Richard.
Also recorded in the books are the names of nearly 50 original stockholders in the corporation. The telephone company attracted the attention of Newberry businessmen James C. Foster, Dr. Frank P. Bohn, James L. Richardson, and members of the Pentland family, who all purchased one share of the company.
After the new business became operational, the Lakefield Telephone Company board of directors petitioned the Luce County Board of Supervisors for a right of way to construct the telephone line. In the spring of 1908, poles were purchased and the task of erecting poles and lines commenced. The Lakefield Telephone Company board pushed to have the phone line constructed as rapidly as possible.
Businesses were charged $2 per month to rent phones from the Lakefield Telephone Company, and residents paid $1.50 per month. Those putting in phones on the main lines furnished and erected the poles.
The phones were large, cumbersome boxes mounted on the customer’s wall. Bells alerted the owner of a call, and an extended mouthpiece was used to talk to the caller. A removable earpiece allowed the recipient of the call to hear the caller.
When the owner wished to make a call, they would call central, and the operator would say, “number please.” The switchboard operator at the Lakefield central was paid $25 per month.
In 1909, the company decided to extend their phone services to Newberry, but the decision was rescinded. Two wires would have been connected from the Lakefield switchboard to Newberry. Lakefield resident E. W. Sanderlin was originally contracted to run the two wires into Newberry at $3 per mile.
The board voted to raise the stocks from $15 to $25 in 1909. In the next few decades the company remained a separate corporation, and decided not to connect with the Michigan Telephone system.
However, in March of 1940, a petition was signed by remaining stockholders to sell all franchises and property to Michigan Bell Telephone.