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COBWEB CORNERS: Call General Palmer! But could you?

By Mel McFarland

        Call General Palmer! But could you? Yes, as soon as telephones arrived in Colorado Springs, he had a phone. Only you could not call him. The city's founder had a private line in his downtown office, yes even in 1885! His phone number was unpublished in the early phone lists - no phone books yet. Only his secretary was allowed to know his number and use it.
       This was not out of the ordinary. Many of the area's richest people either did not have a telephone or kept it secret. Palmer refused to have a telephone at Glen Eyrie for several years.
       He had people to answer the business phone. He would only speak to a caller by prior arrangement. Such was the case with several visitors from the East. Through his secretary, he let them know that they could reach him at his office in the Antlers Hotel at a designated time. Later one of these groups decided they needed to talk to him again, but were understandably upset when they learned they could not conclude their business over the phone and that the general would not be available for a visit!
       W.S. Stratton, the Cripple Creek millionaire, did not have a phone when he was just a carpenter. After he reached a higher status, he was bothered by callers wanting money. He had to change his number regularly, as a few stubborn individuals called enough numbers that they found him. I guess he did not have a secretary. One of his number changes came after midnight when someone called him at that late hour.
       Some stores in the 1880s could not be bothered with the invention. Dry goods and grocers were the most common businesses without phones. One reason was the fact that they would deliver orders. It was feared that calls for small items would use up their delivery time. Eventually they figured out about minimum delivery orders. Many physicians felt that the telephone was a time-wasting toy. Some people today share that thought about cell phones.

(Posted 9/22/15; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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