Telegraph,Telephones and Electricity - Part 5
by Pete Zizka
3-5- 2022

By the end of 1884 things had smoothed over between the telegraph/telephone companies and residents of towns such as Scotland and Andover. We now move ahead to June, 1888. At that time, the Willimantic Electric Light Company applied to the Telephone Company for a permit to string electric wires on their telephone poles. Permission was given by the Telephone Company so long as the “electric current did not interfere with telephone work”. Early telephone lines and electric lines were not properly grounded or shielded with the result that when they ran close each other for any distance, a great deal of interference was caused. The telephone company therefore, requested that the electric wires be run in “parallel circuits” that would,” obviate the induction to the telephone wires caused by single or split circuits”.  This agreement, apparently, was not adhered to by the Electric Company and so late in the day on a Saturday in August, the Telephone company ordered the Electric company to remove its wires but it was so late that the Electric company did nothing about it. The next day, a Sunday, on the orders of the Telephone company superintendent, a Telephone Company work gang from New Haven came to Willimantic and cut down a mile of wire and even cut it twice between each pole. The Electric Company promised a suit. The Superintendent of the Telephone Company then wrote a letter published in “The Chronicle” asserting that the Electric Company had made verbal promises that were not kept and that the attorney of the Telephone company, ”advised the removal of the electric light wires and this order was carried out by our employees in a careful manner”. The next day, officers of the Electric Company fired back saying the Telephone Company made no objections to electric wires until after they were strung and that the notice did not specify a time in which they should be removed. They also said they had plans to remove them and place them on their own poles. After the short dispute, two companies worked through their problems. Within a few years, though, the Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET) found itself at odds with the City. Telephone rates were dropping and that resulted in a large number of people wishing to become new subscribers. In order to serve this increasing number of people, SNET found it necessary to replace some of their old, smaller, poles with larger and higher ones along their main line on Valley Street and down Bank Street to their office in the United Bank Building. SNET then asked the Willimantic Common Council for permission to lay cables underground. In August, 1895, as crews began setting the new poles, which were further apart and would replace several of the older poles, word was sent to Mayor Harrington who immediately headed to Valley and North Streets. There, he informed the workmen that, “inasmuch as they had neglected the little informality of getting permission to make the changes, they had better stop business until further orders”. The Mayor stationed Police Captain Hillhouse on the spot to ensure no further work being done. Within a day, the SNET superintendent met with city officials and the trouble was “amicably settled”. SNET was given permission to lay underground wires on Bank Street and put up the poles on Valley Street, but under the supervision of the Street Superintendent. Now, some residents along Valley Street refused permission for the poles to be erected but the city government said it had jurisdiction and allowed the poles. These squabbles continued for several years as telephone and electric poles and wires were set throughout the city. Interestingly, sometimes a person or group of people would petition for a streetlight on a certain corner while others would object to the poles and wires that would accommodate it. In June, 1900, residents of what is today’s Windham Road objected to poles being set there. Residents of Prospect Street were next to raise objections as poles appeared there. Problems also occurred occasionally between the utilities and the City.  In 1900 the general manager of the Willimantic Electric Light Company was charged with “digging up the streets without the permission of the Superintendent”. He was fined a total of $6.60. Bringing these new utilities to the general population was not easy. But today we can look back and be thankful for all that was accomplished.

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