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southern bell telephone building

Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. Station

City/Town:
Location Class:
Built: ~1930 | Abandoned: ~1978
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: Billy Wade

This building sits alone, vacant and abandoned on the outskirts of Fort Scott. While the building itself history is little to none that could be found it is a part of history much bigger, that of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. Southwestern Bell purchased this property in March 1930 and constructed the building shortly after. This building is architecturally similar to the station in Wright City, Missouri and others throughout the region. With a Tudor Revival style and characteristic architectural terra cotta detailing. The square shape building has a west-facing primary facade with the main entrance situated at the northwest corner window surrounds are accented by terra cotta. SBC used and owned the building until December 1978 which is roughly the time it was abandoned.

Southwestern Bell really took off in the 1920s when it absorbed several other companies including Kinloch Telephone System, Dallas Telephone Company, and a Kansas City phone business. It was one of the largest operations in the entire United States and only got bigger during the Great Depression. Southwestern Bell was able to buy up a handful of small telephone companies in the Midwest during this time. Southwestern Bell’s parent company was none other than AT&T, AT&T’s Western Electric acted as the manufacturing arm of the operation. The company continued to eat up its competition and reached huge milestones throughout the 1950s and ’60s. They would acquire Southeastern Missouri Telephone Company and Southwest Telephone Company of Kansas. The company operated millions of phones throughout the region reaching ten million phones operating by 1969.

In 1982 AT&T and the Justice Department approved the consent decree that would break up the Bell System. AT&T agreed to divest itself of the Bell operating companies. As a result, the Southwestern Bell Corporation was formed as the regional holding company for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. Ownership of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company was officially transferred to Southwestern Bell Corporation on January 1, 1984. It would continue to grow at a fast pace and would dominate the market of mobile telephones. AT&T, on the other hand, had been struggling for years. Ironically Southwestern Bell, which used to be a subsidiary of AT&T, purchased the company in 2005 for $16 billion. In turn, they adopted the name AT&T, putting it back on the map as one of the biggest phone companies in the USA.

This station was reportedly abandoned around 1978 leaving it to become exposed to the elements. Many driving the highway south of Fort Scott mistake it for a school. I thought the same when I first saw it as well. Once I found out the building was connected to the Southwestern Bell Co. it resurfaced a faint memory of hearing stories about my late grandmother working there. This prompted me to ask my family about some of her time at the company.
southwestern bell company
Charlotte Gregory at work ca. Unknown

Charlotte Gregory worked in the Operators Division of Southwestern Bell Co. 1967 until retiring in 1998 after 31 years of service. Her job for the latter half of her career was as a switchboard operator. Each of the phones within a specific boundary would be connected by wire to a central exchange. The owner of a telephone would call the exchange, and a switchboard operator would answer. The caller would give the operator the name of the person they wanted to speak with, and the operator would plug a patch cord into that person’s socket on the switchboard, connecting the two. Long-distance calls would require the local exchange to patch the call through to more distant exchanges, such as this one, again through a series of cables.

Later in her career, she became Supervisor of the division making sure all was in order on the floor. It was not just a job to her as she made lifelong friends out of her coworkers. It was a home environment almost. Each year the company would sponsor a yearly shopping trip for the employees and their families. On the first Wednesday of December, they would make a trek to Kansas City to The Great Mall. She even joined an Alumni Association of past and present Southwestern Bell Co. employees that got together often for actitivites.

Gallery Below of Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. Building




Bibliography

https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/southwestern-bell-corporation

https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMHYC0_Southwestern_Bell_Repeater_Station_Wright_City_Missouri

https://khri.kansasgis.org/?fbclid=IwAR1RYdRek8YY1HUQ1rFgMNisq_QAxn5uyVSv6VvyKVOwfoV-Wh9jtq7vQTg

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Emily Cowan

Emily is a two-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" and "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World". With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

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