Thoughts on York County’s former telephone service

In the past, I’ve occasionally fielded Ask Joan questions, shared memories or mentioned former businesses and tried to gauge their approximate date of operation based on their phone number.

Earlier this year, I received a letter from Andrew P. Smith of Springettsbury Township, who shared some more information on that topic.

Andrew writes, “For most of the years before 1960, it [telephone service] was not very good. Telephone service for most of York County was controlled by the York Telephone and Telegraph Company, which had its headquarters at 31 South Beaver Street across from the old Bon-Ton. Its name still appears on that building, although it is no longer open to the public.”

He added, “The Hanover area was served by the United Telephone Company (now Sprint) and Fairview Township was served by Bell Telephone.”

“In 1959,” he wrote, “after much public controversy, York Telephone and Telegraph was acquired by the General Telephone Company, which began improvements in service. It subsequently changed its name to GenTel, GTE, and ultimately Verizon.”

“When my family moved to the area in 1957, we were assigned a four-digit number. This was the case for most of York County. York had five- and six-digit numbers, Red Lion had five digits, and all other parts of York County had four-digit numbers. We were on a party line. Private lines were rare and hard to get. You heard all your neighbor’s phones ring. Our ring was three short rings. It was only a few years before we moved here that phone service had been extended to our area.”

“Harrisburg and Lancaster, which were under the Bell Telephone Company, had much more advanced service and many more services were offed. York Telephone and Telegraph was just behind. Finally, in April 1964, York got a seven-digit telephone system under General Telephone Company. It became part of the 717 area code, and direct distance dialing for long-distance calls was instituted. It was five or ten years after this had been done in Bell Telephone exchanges, though.”

He concludes, “I think this history of telephone service in York County will be of interest to you. This was long before anyone had heard of cell phones, and all the other gadgets we have now.”

I was very interested! I remember even when I was younger, a friend who still had party-line service, and the home in which I grew up could not take a touch-tone phone, so we had to keep our rotary-dial one for quite some time!

About Joan

My name is Joan and I'm a lifelong Yorker. Throughout high school and college, I swore I was getting out of here as soon as possible. Now, a few years later, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be. I love my town, and I hear every day from readers who love their towns, too. So please, connect with me and let's share what makes life in York County great. I'm here to help you enjoy this place as much as I do!
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5 Responses to Thoughts on York County’s former telephone service

  1. Brenda Neff says:

    I can remember when the East York exchange went from 47 to 755. I have the original rotary phone from my parents’ house from 1955 when they first moved in. A friend blinged it up with glitter and gems and gave it to me as a gift. It sits on the nightstand next to our bed.

  2. Betsy Baird says:

    Who can remember how beautiful the inside of the American Telephone Co.
    on first block of South Beaver St. looked? Beautiful it was. They don’t make placed like that anymore!
    The York Water Co.: That’s another place with beautiful paintings and
    the like. I pray it remains the way it is, and remains where it is, too.
    Modernization of businesses is destroying the grandeur of the past, destroying what should be kept for future generations.

    Betsy Baird

  3. Melanie P says:

    I still remember my grandparents’ old black rotary phone, I wish I had it now. It sat on the desk in the front room just opposite the front door. Sometimes it gave a short ring or two instead of the usual longer ring; I don’t remember for sure, but I think Grandma said it meant that someone else on the party line had picked up the phone, or had just hung up. I was young enough then to wonder how she could stand not picking up and listening in on all those conversations! LOL! I still remember their phone number–wish I could dial it today and have them answer!

  4. Jason Gross says:

    In the 50s in Dover, the only phone in town south of the creek (that I knew about anyway) was at the veterinarians office two doors from our house, so any calls were made to and from his office. The operator was further north on S Main St across from my grandparents house. Later when my sister became a nurse at York Hospital we were able to get a phone so she could be contacted. This was later a party line with several of our neighbors, our number was 3301.

  5. John Loeper says:

    remember in York from the mid 60s to the mid 70s when you wanted to make a long distance call you had to dial 1 and then the area code and number…then a live local operator would come on and ask for your number. you spoke it into the phone and the call would then be connected. You could give any number you wanted to give as long as it included one of the York area exchanges..(the first 3 numbers). wonder how many folks did this to make “free ” long distance calls that ended up being charged to somebody else?

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