THROWBACK THURSDAY: Phone books provide glimpse into past

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A scanned image from a 1951 phone book that included listings for Liberty Hill.

A scanned image from a 1951 phone book that included listings for Liberty Hill.

By JAMES WEAR

Among the many items my folks saved over the years was a collection of five phone books from the mid-1940’s and early 1950’s.

The oldest of these dates back to 1945, with that book including listings for Florence and Andice. Another of these is dated 1951, and includes listings for Liberty Hill as well as Andice, Briggs, Florence, Leander and Spicewood.

The 1951 book totals 26 pages (not including the outside and inside covers), with Liberty Hill listings covering three pages, with about 100 families and businesses included.

Leander, meanwhile, had all of its numbers confined to two pages, although with the layout (placement of ads) totaled about 150 numbers.

All of this from the days when the most common phone in the household was perhaps the old crank telephone that hung on a wall and a switchboard operator was a key element in making communication possible.

Liberty Hill’s phone system, as many oldtimers may recall, wasn’t modernized until the 1970’s — that a story that we’ll address in an upcoming column.

Instructions to users appeared on page one of the Liberty Hill book, including a section devoted to what was defined as “station-to-station calls.” Users were advised “The rates are lower. You talk to anyone who answers the phone. To make a station-to-station call give the operator the name of the town and phone number if you have it, or a name with an address. Do not specify a particular person or you will be charged with the higher person-to-person rates.”

In the 1945 book devoted to Andice and Florence numbers, page one included a number of requests, including the following:

* Please–Don’t hold the line over 5 minutes at any one time as your neighbor may be waiting to use the line.

* Please–Don’t permit the children or others to play with the phone and annoy your neighbors.

* Please–Don’t make unimportant calls between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. before ringing on party lines.

Of course, back in these times calling 9-1-1 for emergencies did not yet exist — in fact, in Liberty Hill the 9-1-1 system did not come about until the 1990’s; instead, for fire or medical emergencies the community relied on volunteers who manned what was known as “the fire phone” in which a local person would take a caller’s information and then dispatch local firefighters over the fire radio.

Liberty Hill did not have a fire department until 1967, and residents depended on Georgetown to provide fire protection.

In a 1951 book that covered the Georgetown and eastern Williamson County area, a note appears devoted to reporting fire emergencies that advised users “reports to the Fire Department and Police when the patrons do not call by number, are not a part of the service for which the telephone company contracts, but are purely as an accommodation and may be discontinued at any time.”

We’ve come a long way since those times. Many persons have discontinued having a land line and rely on cell phones for communications, and many of us no longer depend on a traditional phone book to track down numbers, instead searching for numbers over the internet.

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