The telephone system in Rockingham County had a rather auspicious beginning in – of all places – the tiny town of Bergton. Two young girls, Ada and Pearl Wittig, were the first switchboard operators in the area in the late 1800’s. The first switchboard was located in the Wittig house behind the Bergton Store.
But usually, when folks think about the telephone system in Bergton, they think of Vanny Moyers. Albert Savannah Moyers “Vanny,” was a pioneer in telephone operations. In the early 1900’s, he moved the switchboard to his 200 acre farm some 2500 feet up West Mountain. With the help of some books on electricity and telephony he managed to build – by hand – a stronger, more far-reaching switchboard.
A few years later, in 1905, the Harrisonburg Telephone Company helped to organize the Dovesville Telephone Company. They strung wires from their homes up to the mountain top switchboard, using trees for telephone poles. The first board of directors for the telephone company included: Siram May, L.P.Souder, S.G. Wittig, Michael Fink, Benj. Smith, William Wittig, and John F. Wittig.
The first telephone customers used a magnetic telephone, which held four batteries. They were all on the same party line and could easily listen in on their neighbors’ conversations. Each household with a telephone had a separate ring, with “long” and “short” ringtones. Folks had to listen carefully and count the “longs” and the “shorts” to hear if the phone was ringing for them or for a neighbor
Vanny was the only person in the area who had a radio. He often helped the community stay informed of international and national events by turning on his radio and opening the telephone lines for everybody to hear.
Although communication devices have come a long way since the old party lines, human nature has stayed pretty much the same! We are still interested in the details of our neighbors’ lives—their comings and goings, joys and tragedies. Fortunately, we don’t have to listen in on conversations anymore. We can read it all – and comment on it all — on the latest forms of social media!
Information from Local Lore of the Shenandoah (Cullers/Lilliendahl) and an interview with Kenny May of Bergton