Good day to all and happy birthday, brother Larry.

Concerning the Society’s annual Authentic Maine Lobster Bake, unfortunately, due to health issues with the caterer, it has been canceled. Hopefully we can bring it back next year. Thank you to all that have supported it over the years.

Did you know that by 1908, just seven years after telephones came to town, the DeSoto Telephone Company had outgrown its office for the second time? Consequently, it relocated to the second floor of the Punta Gorda Herald building at the southeast corner of Marion Avenue and Taylor — just across the street from its original location. The newspaper’s heavy printing press had been moved from the second floor for fear of damaging the building, making room for the switchboard and telephone office. The building stood until Hurricane Charley and the site is now vacant.

Ellison White and his wife Willie, “Miss Willie,” ran the telegraph and telephone offices until Albert Coup was hired to manage the telephone operation around 1904. Coup retired in 1913 and was replaced by James Alfred. In 1921, Robert Bonnell took over. Then, Barron Gift Collier, who’d made a fortune selling advertising in New York City streetcars and was a millionaire by age 26, came to Southwest Florida, intent on establishing a string of resort hotels.

Collier purchased the Hotel Punta Gorda in 1925, renovated it, added a fifth-floor ballroom, and renamed it the Hotel Charlotte Harbor. The previous year he had also acquired the DeSoto Telephone Company, with Bonnell staying on as manager. Bonnell and his wife Annie also operated a popular department store in the 100 block of West Marion Avenue.

Over the next few years, Collier went about assembling several local, non-Bell systems and formed the Inter-County Telephone and Telegraph Company headquartered in Fort Myers. Service was improved in 1935 by replacement of wall-mounted, hand-crank phones with ringing, upright desk phones. When Collier died in 1939, Inter-County was purchased by George Thompson and E. E. Johnson.

By late 1953, a new telephone office building had been built at 113 W. Olympia Ave., and manual exchanges converted to automatic dialing. The one-story building stands today, incorporated into a large addition constructed later. Phone numbers now had seven digits, but the two-letter prefix, “NE,” for Neptune, was required only for long-distance calls. Thus, the 639 (NE9) exchange was created. When Port Charlotte got its own exchange, it was designated as National (NA5), or 625.

Inter-County Telephone was acquired by United Telephone of Florida in 1967, as part of United Telecommunications’ holdings. In 1991, United Telecom changed its name to Sprint Corporation, which merged with Nextel in 2005. Local telephone exchange assets were “spun-off” in 2006 and placed with newly created Embarq. Embarq was then purchased in 2009 by Century Tel, Inc. and rebranded as CenturyLink, which today, is only one of several companies offering local telephone service.

Photographs of “Miss Willie” and Barron Collier can be viewed by visiting Charlotte County online library resources. Select “Library Catalog,” click on “Physical Items,” then “Archive Search.” Enter the subject of your search on the “Search” line. Visit the same site and select “History Exhibits” to find out what history related programs and videos are available.

Also, check out History Services’ yearlong project, “Telling Your Stories: History in the Parks.” It began in January with placement of the first interpretive sign “Charlotte Harbor Spa” at South County Regional Park. The seventh will be dedicated September 22 at McGuire Park featuring one of A.C. Frizell’s bulls. All dedicated signs can be viewed at online library resources. Select “Programs and Services,” then “History Services” and “Virtual Programs.”

“Did You Know” appears, typically, every other Wednesday, courtesy of this newspaper and the Charlotte County Historical Center Society. The Society’s mission is to help promote and preserve Charlotte County’s rich history. A family membership is only $35 and provides complimentary access to more than 300 museums and technical centers nationwide. We are also always looking for volunteers and interested individuals to serve as board members. If you believe our area’s history is as important as we do, please visit Charlotte County Historical Center Society online, or call 941-613-3228 for more information.


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