Backtracking: In Our Times: Communication technologies were phased in, out during 1954

Mark SimonsonA modern outdoor telephone booth is shown in Franklin in 2013. Some of the earliest local booths were installed in Oneonta in August 1954 by the New York Telephone Company.

In the summer of 1954, our area was bidding farewell to a traditional form of communication, while new forms were getting their starts — some now considered outmoded or obsolete.


“The Western Union office on Main Street here will be closed effective Monday,” according to the Oneonta Star of Aug. 19, “leaving this village without its own telegraph office for the first time in 103 years.

“Cooperstown received its first telegraphic service in 1851, just seven and a half years after the telegraph was invented by Samuel F.B. Morse. Western Union has operated here since 1886.” Interestingly, Morse had perfected his plans for the telegraph in nearby Cherry Valley.

“For nearly three-quarters of a century, telegraph business has been managed by just two persons, Miss (Pearl L.) Matson and the late Miss Helen Davidson, who was manager for 35 years prior to her retirement in 1917.”


“Stuck outdoors and want to use a phone? The New York Telephone Company’s going to make it easier for you if you do,” Star readers found out on Aug. 19.

“New York Telephone workers yesterday installed a public telephone booth on Main Street next to Hoffman’s Dry Cleaners near the Broad Street corner.” This would be in the area of today’s Muller Plaza, Oneonta.

“Another public booth will be started today further down Main Street, next to George’s Lunch — all in the interest of better and faster customer service to all.

“Phone spokesmen explained the booths were experimental. ‘If they go over well,’ one said, ‘we’ll put in more. Of course it’ll take time to find that out.’

“The booths are painted in gay colors of red and white, are well lighted and can be easily seen from street distances or passing cars.

“Similar booths have been installed in other sections of the state and nation, for the convenience of shoppers, housewives, motorists and tourists.”


“A showdown vote is due at the Common Council session Tuesday night on the long debated issue of a community TV franchise,” according to The Star of Aug. 2.

“The question is whether the franchise will go to Albert E. Farone, who heads Oneonta Video Inc., or Oneonta Cable & Television Corp., represented by the law firm of Sterling P. Harrington and Richard J. Bookhout.

“The two rival groups have appeared three times before the council in convened session, and several executive meetings have been held.

“Heated discussions among aldermen and other city officials have taken place over the contest, and a unanimous vote appears to be out of the question.”

While he didn’t elaborate, then Sixth Ward Alderman Albert S. Nader charged that politics had entered the picture.

Up to this time, there had been minor efforts in the city to establish large hillside antennas for improved TV reception in two sections of the city, but the year had seen interests in having one company serve the entire city and eventually the town of Oneonta.

The showdown arrived, and according to The Star of Aug. 4, “Mayor Roger G. Hughes last night broke a Common Council deadlock by voting to award a community TV franchise to the Albert E. Farone group, known as Oneonta Video, Inc.

The other three aldermen who voted for the Farone group did so because it represented local people and local capital, whereas the Oneonta Cable & Television Corp. was backed by Jerrold Electronics Corp. of Philadelphia.

Later that month, it was reported that Common Council had approved contract terms with Oneonta Video.

“Construction of the much talked about community TV system likely will start this weekend or early next week,” The Star said on Aug. 25.

“Mr. Farone said one truck of equipment is here and another in enroute from Philadelphia, and that he expects service to be available by November 1.

“Installation cost of $125 per customer, with $27.50 trade-in allowance on each old antenna, and financing up to 12 months” was the first offering. Monthly rental would not exceed $3.25. For all this, customers received four clear channels.

This weekend: The summer of 1934 locally had its mix of heroes and villains.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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