Saturday, September 3, 2011

Collection Highlight : Telephone Books Serve as Directory Substitutes

Not too many towns in Southwest Michigan had their own city directories, so when we are asked about them we offer telephone books as a possible substitute.  The Local History Collection of the Van Buren District Library houses a hefty telephone book collection, numbering about 350 volumes, and we continue to seek out others.

Communities from the six counties of Southwest Michigan (Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph & Van Buren) are represented and date as early as 1906, that one being from the small community of Wayland.  It has seven pages of names and a couple of pages of advertisements.  It was distributed by the Michigan State Telephone Company, formerly known as Michigan Bell.   Telephone numbers look a little different in 1906, for example:

Orton, William, Orton's Hotel, Gun Lake - telephone number 30, 2L 2S

What do historic telephone books offer besides lists of names & numbers?  Many of them were distributed by telephone companies that were only in business a short time, went by a number of different names, or have disappeared.  Some of those were:
  • Watson Telephone Company
  • Kibbie Telephone Company
  • Tri-County Telephone
  • General Telephone (GTE)
  • Southern Michigan Telephone Company
  • Michigan Associated
  • Union Telephone Company
 The advertisements in the older books are a delight, highlighting businesses that may have left little or no other paper trail.  The 1945 Watson (Allegan County) telephone book of four pages plus a cover has several of these advertisements including:

  • Dickerson's Ups and Downs, Bloomingdale (dealers in certified hybrid corn)
  • Dr. A. Leenhouts, Eye - Ear - Nose - Throat, Holland
  • The Updyke Agency (Insurance), Allegan
  • Drs. S. Graves & W. L. Graves, Veterinarians, Allegan & Hopkins
  • Harvey and Melvin Wedge Wrecker Service, Allegan
  • Shelbyville Lumber & Coal Co., Shelbyville
As you can see, advertising branched out from surrounding communities.  

The Kibbie Telephone Company Directories of the 1910's are a real surprise as they are actually like a county directory, including the communities of:  South Haven, Kibbie, Covert, Glenn, Bangor, Hartford, Decatur, Lawrence, Paw Paw, Lawton, Gobleville (Gobles), and Bloomingdale.  The Tri-County Telephone Company had a similar format including as many as a dozen communities.


There is no "master collection" of these telephone books, except some partial collections in the hands of some present-day phone companies.  Understandably, distribution numbers on some of these may have been as small as a few dozen.  Through the library's search efforts some rare volumes have been located in flea markets, antique shops, and on Ebay, but there are still many more out there.  If you have or know of any telephone directory from a community in Southwest Michigan, consider donating it to the Local History telephone book collection.  Many more recent books are also still needed.  Good photocopies or digital copies are also acceptable.  Help us preserve this unique form of local history.  Contact us with any information or questions.

Visitors to the Local History Collection may view directories, and select photocopies may be made.  However, digital cameras and scanners are not permitted and photocopying of entire directories is not permitted.  Please call or e-mail ahead of your visit to make arrangements to have the directories available for viewing.

Nameless Picture of the Day

  unidentified man
Photographer - C. G. Agrell, Allegan
M1789

Can you identify the man in this photo?  Are you familiar with the photographer's name?   Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.