Let’s Talk Clovis: History of Clovis Telephone Service

Front: Lilly Grey, Frances Busick, Emi Whittaker, Betty Foster. Standing: Lutie Moore. (Clovis Museum)

Alexander Graham Bell secured the first telephone patent in 1876. There were over 3 million telephones in the US by 1904.

We are extracting information from “Those Were the Days” by CUSD in 1976, an undated article released by The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company faxed in 1996 from Fresno External Affairs and an article written by Dr. Wilbur Beasley.

Robert E. L. Good (first Clovis merchant) established his store at the southwest corner of Fourth & Fulton (now Clovis Ave) in 1895. A telephone system was placed in his store in 1900 (?). Nora DeGraw, sister of Bessie, was his bookkeeper and she operated the telephone jacks that were hung on a wall. The line connected Clovis with Fresno.

An additional telephone line was also installed at Good’s to serve a stage line that was operated by Mr. Swartz. That line connected his stations at Academy, Letcher and Copper King Mine to Fresno.

Edward Webster built his two story Webster building (northeast corner of 5th and Pollasky) in 1904. He opened a drug store at that location and also established our first telephone office that remained there for approximately six years.

Billy Atwood purchased the Webster drug store and moved the contents (including the telephone service) to the lower floor of the Harwell two-story house that was built in 1902, at 423 Pollasky. Later, the Emil Prudek barbershop located there. A barbershop continues there today.

Steve Titcomb (former worker on the Santa Fe RR and partially blind) became our first full time telephone agent. His wife began managing the Atwood drug store. Titcomb served as the telephone engineer where he established rural lines and was credited as the real father of our telephone system.

Bessie DeGraw Frazee Beasley was born in Lincoln Nebraska, 1880. She married Steve Frazee, a pioneer copper miner, who was killed in a mining accident prior to the 1909 birth of their daughter Frieda. Bessie became a telephone operator for Mr. Titcomb for $4.00 per week in 1910. Bessie recalled there were 36 telephones in Clovis at that time.

She and Titcomb rotated shifts at the switchboard from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Titcomb’s five-year-old daughter was a capable assistant when needed. She was noted for her accuracy.

In 1912, the agency moved its one-position switchboard to a building back of Max’s Smoke Shop (location not documented). Bessie became the manager and was assisted by two girls and a male night operator, Mr. Search.

Mr. Ghilotti built a duplex building in 1922 near the southwest corner of Pollasky and 6th Street; now Bullard Ave. Clovis City Hall occupied one side and Pacific Telephone Company the other side.

The telephone office would remain there until the dial telephone system was installed in Clovis on August 13, 1953. Staff size at that time was four operators on duty (total employed 12 operators) who averaged 8,000 daily calls.

The new prefix of Cypress 9 was initiated at that time. The 1953 building remains at the northwest corner of Shaw and Pollasky.

In 1918 Bessie married pioneer automobile dealer Claude Beasley. Both were active/involved citizens of Clovis. Bessie retired as manager in 1948.

Her son Dr. Wilbur Beasley, recalls: “She had gone from the old days of magneto powered switchboards through electrical powered ones. Literally thousands of calls were handled with a “Number, please…Another miracle took place in that operators had to eavesdrop to know when to say, ”Are you through?” and no scandals ever erupted from their care. Professionals to the core, secrets were kept to the grave.”

Mrs. Lutie Moore would become manager when Beasley retired. She started as an operator at age 17 in 1916 and stayed until her marriage in 1920. She would return to work vacation reliefs. In 1925, she returned to full time and would complete 33 years of service.

Many of us remember the time when neighbors and friends did not have telephones and phones were shared. The frustrating party lines in some areas would try the patience of Job. Operators would leave their posts to deliver an urgent message. The operators knew the location of our doctors and would respond quickly during emergencies.

Harry Balfe (millionaire from New York who built the famous Clovis Balfe ranch in 1919) entrusted his number to Bessie and her girls to monitor his calls. He would send his chauffeur to deliver a box of candy to demonstrate his appreciation.

Bessie and Lutie (combined) provided 71 years of public telephone service to Clovis.

They and their staff provided us a rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.