August 8, 2012

Old directory reveals history

By SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — Give me a good auction or a flea market, and I’m on the hunt for that “surprise” purchase — something I probably don’t need but would love to find.

One such surprise ended up at the bottom of a box of odds and ends. It must have been a purchase I made a long time ago, because when I found the box in the closet, I didn’t think it was mine. Then one item caught my eye.

It’s a 1950-51 fire and emergency directory for Plattsburg, no “h.” Businesses were solicited to pay a certain price to have their names and other information listed on the 7-by-14-inch cardboard. The advantage being you were advertising your business and perhaps saving somebody’s life with the emergency numbers.

According to the directory, there were fire-alarm boxes in the city. Each one was assigned a number. Brinkerhoff and Catherine streets held box number 13; number 25 was at the corner of Margaret Street and the Lozier car plant; number 231 was at the “new” high school on Broad Street; 252 was at St. Peter’s College on North Catherine Street; and 423 was at the Children’s Home on Bailey Avenue.

In addition, the sidelines state: “Out of town calls shall be two courses of 2-2-2; the inhalator (what’s an inhalator?) call shall be 1-2; there shall be one imaginary box at Scomotion Avenue, No. 26; … one imaginary box at the fairgrounds, No. 45; and … one imaginary box at West Cornelia Street, No. 18.” Imaginary boxes? Is that for imaginary fires?

This directory was printed in the days when not too many people had telephones. Phones were identified with between one and four numbers. The way to reach some of the advertisers: L.C. Bolles Inc., 42-44 Court St., phone 121 for sales and 245 for service; The Corner Book Store, 110 Margaret St., Eastman Kodaks, supplies, films, flash-holders, bulbs, everything for photography, phone 755; R.A. Trombley, groceries, meats, fruits, manufacturer of potato chips delivered to your door, 47 Miller St., phone 577.

How about General Ice Cream Corp., Sealtest Ice Cream, 7 Pond St., phone 1. Very impressive to have “1” for a phone number.

The card also announced bus schedules from Plattsburgh to Montreal, leaving at 6:09 a.m. daily and arriving at 8:55 a.m. plus two other departures. You also had three choice departure times to make the Montreal-to-Plattsburgh trip but only one trip daily from Plattsburgh to Saranac Lake, 7 p.m. departure and 9:05 arrival. There was some confusion about the “h” on Plattsburgh because both spellings are used on the directory.

Some businesses included city and country phones, such as A. Mason & Sons Inc., manufacturers of lumber and millwork, which had an office in Peru at Mill and Main streets, phone Peru 25, and yard and office in Plattsburgh, phone 227. Another example is J.J. O’Neill, funeral director, private ambulance, motor equipment Nu-3-Way electric side-servicing funeral coach and a “lady assistant” at 72 Brinkerhoff St., phone Plattsburgh 106 and Keeseville phone 77.

Elmore Brewster, paints, wallpapers, rugs, floor and wall tile, rentals, 23 South Catherine St., was the only one with a twist to his number, phone 812-W. I remember phone lines having eight people on one connection and having either a “J” or a “W” after the number. (Anybody know why they picked “J” or “W”? Why not “P” or “Q”?) With such simple phone numbers back then, it’s no wonder anybody older than 60 has a hard time working a cell phone.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at