Early Telegraph and Telephone Service

As this columnist thinks of the many sources from which she obtains information for “Your Town and My Town,” the name of Mrs. Martin Wentworth Suffren seems to come to mind more frequently than that of any other person.

Born on October 10, 1858, in a lovely old house built by her parents on Homestead Road, Strafford, the year before her birth, Mrs. Suffren’s memory spans a longer period, probably, than that of any Wayne resident. At present she lives in the house adjacent to her birthplace, as it is now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. E. Brooke Matlack.

Closely as the writer keeps in touch with Mrs. Suffren, she had never thought to question her on a subject on which she had long sought accurate informatlon for this column. So it was with a feeling of real surprise that she received an invitation from “the grand old lady or Strafford” to visit and to hear “all about the first telephone in this vicinity.” What Mrs. Suffren offered was information long sought by the writer, especially since Wayne has now become “telephone conscious,” with the erection of two important telephone buildings in its midst, one the property of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and the other that of the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania.

It was in 1876, as Mrs. Suffren remembers the date, that Mr. Persifor Frazer, who was living on the north side of Strafford station, asked Mr. Wentworth for permission to run telephone wires from there to the Wentworth place.

Mr. Frazer was making his home at the time in a large boarding house then owned by Mrs. Mifflin Lewis, now occupied by Dr. D.J. Rosato and his family. According to plans, wires were to run from the Lewis house to the Wentworth homestead on the hill to the north. Mr. Frazer, who had become very much interested in the subject of the telephone after seeing an exhibition of it at the Philadelphia Centennial, wished to do some personal experimentation of his own.

Now, 80 years later, Mrs. Suffren remembers the intense excitement she felt as she heard of this contemplated experiment. “I can never hear all that distance,” she said to herself as she looked through the thick expanse of trees that lay between her home and that of Mrs. Lewis. This feeling on the part of the young girl was strengthened by the fact that her hearing had not been very keen since she was a child – at least “not good enough for eavesdropping,” Mrs. Suffren now adds with a chuckle!

This telephone line was run between the two houses, attached to trees along the way, Mrs. Suffren remembers. When all was in order, communication was established between the two houses, and Martha Wentworth could hear through the receiver the voice coming from the neighboring house.

Mrs. Suffren also recalls clearly an early exhibition of the telephone system which was given in the Old Eagle School House, a quaint building dating back many years and about which much has been written in the column from time to time. She can visualize herself at the time as the “little Martha whom Mother took along because she couldn’t get rid of her in any other way.” Two men were seated in opposite corners of the room, with wires stretched between them. Using the Morse dot and dash system, messages were sent from one corner to be transcribed accurately in the other corner, much to the amazement of the large group or spectators eager to see one of the modern miracles of the time.

Before the writer had gone on her way, Mrs. Suffren took her around the pleasant home, built almost 50 years ago by Mr. Suffren and herself, on an acre and a half of the origlnal Wentworth property. In a later column, many of Mrs. Suffren’s fine old pieces of furniture and priceless possessions will be described.