Livingston Telephone Company, Polk County’s first public utility, was formed August 1, 1903. Dr. W.B. Everitt, a physician who was also pastor of the church which is now Central Baptist, was issued the first stock certificate.
Watt Scarborough was the first manager of the company, he had formerly been manager of Carthage Telephone Company. The first stockholders were L.F. Geriach, S.H. Smith, J.C. Feagin, Dr. B. C. Marsh, Hill & Hill, Mistrot Brothers, H.B. Davis, J.A. Dye, T.F. Meece, A.L. Sawyer, George Smith, S.M. Peters, J.W. Cochran, J.L. Muller, P.H. Blalock, and D.A. Bonner. The original paid-in capital stock was $2,000.00.
The first small switchboard was located at 315 N. Jackson and served 40 telephones, each on its own line. The Magneto system was utilized, using hand-cranked generators for ringing and dry-cell batteries, both at each telephone and at the central office for the talking circuit. Judge James E. Hill had the first phone installed with the line running from the railroad depot to his office.
The first operators were on duty 24 hours a day, a lady during the day and a man at night. By 1909, the Company was serving 65 customers and by April, 1910, had installed the county’s first creosoted poles. The first pole was placed at the intersection of HWY 59 and HWY 190.
Long distance calls had increased enough by 1911 to warrant the installation of a separate line to Houston to handle the traffic. The importance of the new electronic miracle was demonstrated during the 1911 statewide Prohibition election. Southwestern Telephone Company furnished free of charge a line to get the latest election returns from the company’s Houston office. The information, in turn, was flashed on the curtain in the Happy Hour Theater in Livingston for a crowd of standing-room-only patrons. When, in 1913, First National Bank built a new building across the street from the courthouse, Livingston Telephone located there. A new swithchboard was purchased in 1914 which increased drop capacity to 300 phones.
In 1934, the exchange was converted to the common battery system, purchased from the Stromberg-Carlson Company. This system also required batteries both at each telephone and the central office, but now lifting the receiver would automatically give a signal to a swithboard operator who would respond and make a connection for the caller.
S.H. Smith, a major stockholder, businessman, and farmer, served as president from the company’s beginning until retirement in 1922. Judge J.C. Feagin succeeded him and served until his death in 1927. S. Ross Smith, a diversified businessman like his father, was president from 1927 until his death in 1978. The third generation, Sidney Smith, became president and held this position until January 2004. Sidney Smith now remains the Chairman of the Board while Curt Walzel was voted in as the new President in January 2004. A.W. Peebles, who joined the company in 1905 as its first lineman and troubleshooter, became general manager in 1909. In those early years, the general manager served in many capacities, pinch-hitting at times for lineman and operator. Mr. Peebles used to chuckle about how in the early days, the linemen made their trouble calls with their tools and equipment in a wheelbarrow. He held the management position until 1957. He became treasurer in 1914 and held the job until his son, Allen Peebles, suceeded him. Rex Atkinson was manager from 1957 until 1973. A few months later, in early 1974 Troy Rippy became Manager and Executive Vice President and continued until his death in 1994. Curt Walzel became Manager and Executive Vice President a few months later in 1994. In January 2004 Curt Walzel was elected as President of Livingston Telephone Company and still holds this position today.
The telephone system was converted to the dial system January 3, 1959, coinciding with the construction of the present building at Houston and Polk Streets. The change-over was pronounced one of the smoothest ever made; the main trouble being the unfamiliarity of the customers using the new direct distance dialing equipment. With the new equipment installed, by the early 1960’s subscribers were able to dial cross-country for the first time. The exchange was converted in 1980 to touch tone with the subscriber having the option to use push-button or rotary dial systems. The company modernized in 1985 and installed a digital central control office.
In 1983, Telcom Supply was formed as a subsidiary of Livingston Telephone. It serves as a phone store; sells and maintains IP PBX – Small Business and key system phones. This company expanded its services in 1984 to include mobile phones as an agent of GTE Mobilnet. If you would like more information about services offered by Telcom Supply please click HERE.
The Texas Historical Commission granted an official Texas Historical marker to Livingston Telephone company in 1985, marking its contributions to Polk County and its citizens. The newest location at 701 W. Church is the building which formerly housed Livingston Savings and Loan and Jasper Federal Savings and Loan and has enabled Livingston Telephone to offer its customers drive-in facilities as well as greatly expanded business offices and ample parking.