Phone exchanges of old would read like a map

January 12, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

Before there was Caller I.D., there was the telephone exchange.

This is a term that must baffle those who know only touch tone, area code, star and pound.

Consider Homewood, Calvert, Ridgeway and Elgin. These were once a part of daily communication usage in Baltimore. If you lived at Fleet and Milton you might have been an Eastern or a Broadway. Those were telephone exchanges -- actual neighborhood buildings where operators toiled to hand-connect wires on a switchboard.

Those blessed with perfect telephonic memory will recall some of Baltimore's classic numbers of the retail trade: Calvert 1000 was O'Neill's department store. Hutzler Brothers, Saratoga 1234 and 4321. Stewart & Co., Saratoga 6060. The May Company, Calvert 5500. Hochschild Kohn, Calvert 1166. Sears Roebuck on North Avenue, University 3970. Brager-Eisenberg, Calvert 2222. The Hub, Calvert 4444.


Radio and early television commercials brought phone exchanges into a form of special recognition, thanks to almost hourly repetition over the local airwaves. Remember Cloverland Farms Dairy and its familiar North 9-2222? Or Hampden Rug Cleaning at Belmont Five -- Oh Six Oh Oh?

Or calling the Edmondson Village Theater (Longwood Six, Four-Five Hundred) to find out what's playing, how much is it, when's the last show? And are there cartoons?

Two of the longest-lived commercial telephone numbers belong to BGE (Mulberry Five-0h One Two Three) and the Mass Transit Administration (Lexington Nine-Five Thousand).

The MTA's number stretches back in ancestry to both the Baltimore Transit Co. and its forbearer, the United Railways and Electric Co.

Telephone numbers have gone though big changes in the last 20 years.

Despite a proliferation of numbers that are not bound by any geographical identity, there remain thousands of seven-digit numbers that do identify a caller's whereabout.

A savvy telephone-numbers expert can detect the difference between a Villa Nova listing and a Pikesville line in the time it takes to say "Hunter."

To this day, Tuxedo (889) pegs you from North Baltimore, as do Belmont (235), Hopkins (467) and Chesapeake (243). Pre-dating rotary-dial telephones are the ancient exchanges Homewood, University and Evergreen.

Downtown was filled with exchanges: Calvert, St. Paul, Lexington, Saratoga, Mulberry and Vernon. Geographically, these lines wrapped around a big area.

Lexington numbers stretch above North Avenue. South Baltimore and Federal Hill regularly had Plaza and Mulberry listings, although there once was a South, and Elgin and Curtis for the parts of town below the Hanover Street Bridge.

West and Southwest Baltimore had their Longwood, Lafayette, Gilmor, Wilkens, Center, Milton and Edmondson.

For Northwest Baltimore, there were Park, Madison, Forest, Liberty, North, Rogers, Mohawk and Ivanhoe.

Northeast Baltimore was served by Hamilton, Dickens, Idlewylde and Clifton.

East Baltimore had Broadway, Eastern, Peabody, Wolfe, Orleans and Medford.

The city's older suburbs were served by several large exchanges -- like Valley (so large that there were Valleys 3, 5 and 8 to choose from) and Ridgeway 4 or 7 in Catonsville.

There were smaller exchanges -- Arbutus, Armiger, Boulevard, Chase, Clarksville, Cockeysville, Crain, Dundalk, Elkridge, Ellicott City, Essex, Gibson Island, Glen Burnie, Gwynn, Linthicum, Manor, Reisterstown, Roslyn (Randallstown), Severna Park, Sparrows Point, Sunset (Riviera Beach), Sykesville, Waterloo, Woodstock and Worthington.

With them came Atwater, Circle, Clearbrook, Clinton, Davis, Drexel, Edgewater, Gilbert, Howard, Hunter, Keystone, Lyric, Mitchell, Murdock, Normandy, Northfield, Oldfield, Overbrook, Prescott, Ridgeway, Southfield, State, Tennyson, Underhill, Uptown, Valley, Walnut, Windsor and Woodland.

And while we're discussing telephone antiquity, we might as well bring up the party line, that budget system wherein two phone subscribers shared the same wire.

It was the opposite of call waiting. On a party line, you clicked your shared-line mate to hang up and free the wire.

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