“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Tangier in Accomack County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Telephone Office, Post Office & Myrtís

Telephone Office, Post Office & Myrtís Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, September 8, 2016
1. Telephone Office, Post Office & Myrtís Marker
Inscription.  The Telephone Building was built in 1966 by Grover Charnock when radiotelephones were finally replaced with a microwave tower.

In front of this is a new home, built on the site of the former Grand Theater, built in 1929 by Gordon Daley, and torn down in the early 1960s.

The Alonzo Moore Store, also known as Myrtís, was built by William Walter. It was 50' x 75', two stories high with high ceilings and ceiling fans. The upper level was a three bedroom home with a porch along the entire north side. On the ground floor were two large rectangular rooms, including a 40' long marble soda fountain and a dance hall. The front room was a general store that sold canned goods, had a candy counter, nail kegs, a liarís bench and a pot-bellied stove. Myrt loved to play Chinese Checkers and would always accept the challenge to play. She was also known to be an effective bouncer if things got too rowdy.
Location. 37° 49.632′ N, 75° 59.514′ W. Marker is in Tangier, Virginia, in Accomack County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Ridge
Telephone Office, Post Office & Myrtís plus the marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, September 9, 2016
2. Telephone Office, Post Office & Myrtís plus the marker
The marker is on the pole next to the red bench in the foreground. The yellow house is the house that replaced the Grand Theater. Behind the house is the 1966 C&P telephone central office (now Verizon) that houses the islandís telephone exchange. The 1966 microwave tower, still in use, is on the left. This photograph has a partial view of the post office, the building on the right.
Road and Pondarosa Road, on the left when traveling south on Main Ridge Road. It is across the street from the Methodist church. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Tangier VA 23440, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Swain Memorial United Methodist Church (a few steps from this marker); Tangier Island (a few steps from this marker); The Parson of the Islands (a few steps from this marker); Dr. Copter — Flying Medicine to Tangier (a few steps from this marker); Tangier Island Veterans Memorial (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named Tangier Island Veterans Memorial (a few steps from this marker); Tangier Island World Wars I and II Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); Gladstone Memorial Health Center (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Tangier.
Additional comments.
1. The Tangier Telephone Central Office
Tangier Island is more than 15 miles from the mainland, right in the middle of the widest part of the Chesapeake Bay. It is just a few square miles, home to less than 500 people. The Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company of Virginia (C&P Telephone), a Bell System company controlled by AT&T, built a radiotelephone system for Tangier Island in the 1940s that allowed islanders to reach an operator in Onancock on Virginiaís
The Tangier Telephone Central Office image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, September 8, 2016
3. The Tangier Telephone Central Office
Built in 1966 to house a step-by-step automatic exchange, it is connected to Onancock on the Eastern Shore mainland by microwave. Today it houses an electronic telephone exchange.
Eastern Shore. The operator asked what number they wanted to reach in Onancock, or passed them on to the long distance operator if they wanted to reach a number elsewhere in the United States or the rest of the world.

The radiotelephone system by the 1960s consisted of 13 telephone booths scattered by the side of the road around the island with a coin-operated telephone that did not have a dial. You picked up the receiver, waited for the operator to come on the line, and told her the number you wanted to reach. The operator would connect the call, ask the called party to stand by for a call from Tangier Island, and tell you how much money to deposit for the first three minutes. For a long distance call this could be three or more dollars. Each coin would strike a gong (within the telephone were three different-sounding gongs for 25, 10 and 5 cent coins) as you dropped it in and the operator would count the gong sounds to make sure you had deposited the right amount. (If you and she disagreed, she would cause the telephone to return all the coins to you so you could deposit them again.) Once the right amount was deposited, she would say “go ahead, please” to both parties, start the timer, and release from the circuit. After three minutes she would come on the line to ask if you were through. If you werenít you could ask for more time and she would tell you
Tangier's Water Tower image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, September 7, 2016
4. Tangier's Water Tower
This view is from the southwest on the approach to Tangier Island by the passenger ferry from the Virginiaís Northern Neck. The communications tower for Internet service can be seen behind the water tower in this photograph. The telephone microwave tower is behind the church steeple, visible on the right. Not a cellphone tower to be seen anywhere on the island.
how much more to deposit.

The radiotelephone system was noisy with static in the best of times, and would fill with noise during storms near and far, and after dark subject to radio interference. And you could only place outgoing calls: No one on the island could be called by someone else.

In 1966, only three years before man stepped on the moon, residential and commercial telephone service finally came to Tangier Island. C&P had a small building built and installed a Western Electric Step-By-Step telephone switch and a microwave system to connect it to Onancock on the mainland. They buried waterproof telephone cable along all streets and roads on the island and installed about 160 telephones in homes, shops throughout the island and even in a few crab shanties. For the first time, residents could call each other, or call to Onancock and elsewhere in the world from the comfort of their homes. More importantly, anyone in the rest of the world could call them.

C&P Telephone spent a little less than a quarter of a million dollars (1.8 million in today's money) to bring telephone service to Tangier Island in 1966. The first telephone directory for the Tangier exchange was one and a quarter pages long, with two columns per page. A little over 160 telephones were initially installed. The Tangier exchange number was and is 891 and all four-digit subscriber
Main Ridge Road, one of the wider streets in Tangier image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, September 9, 2016
5. Main Ridge Road, one of the wider streets in Tangier
numbers begin with a 2. The "Tangier" exchange became a new rate center for the Bell System. In area code 703 in 1966, it is now in area code 757.

The telephone exchange on Tangier, from the beginning, was completely automated. There were no telephone operators on the island. When you dialed zero to reach an operator an operator at Onancock would answer. When there were service problems or to install a new subscriber, a C&P lineman would come on the mail boat or passenger ferry from the mainland and use a bicycle to make his rounds. Today Verizon does the same thing except the lineman rents a golf cart.
    — Submitted September 11, 2016, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.

2. Communications on Tangier Island Today, 2016
Don't believe cellular phone company maps. There is no cell phone service on Tangier Island. My phone very occasionally reported one bar of service, most likely a stray signal from the mainland 15 miles away, but even then I could not place a call. I did manage to send out a text message or two many minutes after I pressed send.

Native islanders donít have cell phones. They rely on land-line telephones wired to Verizon and seem to know most numbers by heart. Ask the cashier at a restaurant if someone could take tourists out on the water and after dialing
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around for a bit she will find a waterman who is free and willing.

There is internet service on Tangier Island. It is beamed in by line-of-sight wireless to the antenna tower beside the townís water tower by Northern Neck Wireless out of Kilmanrock on the mainland and distributed out to subscribers in homes and shops. It is not the fastest nor the most reliable service.
    — Submitted September 11, 2016, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.

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Credits. This page was last revised on January 25, 2020. This page originally submitted on September 11, 2016, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 539 times since then and 6 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on September 11, 2016, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.   4, 5. submitted on October 28, 2016, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.
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