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MJ History: History of the Mt. Juliet Phone Company

This week we have an entry from the Mt. Juliet Homecoming book that is printed in accordance with the event every year. This one is about the history of the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company. It is written by Nealon Agee. 

Organized in 1902 by unknown owners, the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company was sold in 1920 when it was purchased by Cliff and Jeff Hill. They owned the business for one month and then sold it to C.A. Osment who owned the company until 1927. He decided that the business was not developing as he would like, and that year sold the company to Walter Phillips of Norene, who owned the company until 1952. 

Many Mt. Juliet residents worked for the telephone company through the years. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Jones actually operated the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company in the early 1930s when it was located above the Mt. Juliet Bank, while it was owned by Walter Phillips. The Jones family, including their daughter Virginia, again worked for the company in the early 1950s when it was in the large building, which at one time was the Mt. Juliet Depot, and their home, on what was then known as the Old Railroad Bed, or as it is now known, West Main Street. 

Some others who will be remembered as long time operators for the company are Nellie Dee Bradshaw (1940s and 1950s), Irene Smith Bates (1941-1946), and Era Fuqua (1940-1960s). Nora and Sam Bond worked about 25 years for the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company in the earlier years. Later, in the 1960s, Nancy Porter and Ruth Garrett, were operators during the years of the Sutherland ownership. Some of the others worked for the Phillips and Sutherland years. 

Irene Smith Bates gave some anecdotal information that will give the reader an idea of the life of the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company while still owned and operated by Mr. Walter Phillips. “I am proud to say that my family was involved during WWII operating the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company in the railroad depot which was also our home. There were four rooms, and the switchboard was set up in the living room. The operators acted as an answering service for emergencies and long distance calls. The party lines were a bit of a nuisance with people listening in. We were on duty 24 hours a day. There were thousands of wires connected to the switchboard. During a lightning storm, it would light up, crackle and pop. There was no running water in our home (the depot) but we had a well. During WWII, soldiers brought to our village tents, tanks and jeeps. The telephone business picked up as the soldiers lined up waiting for their calls to go through. Although sugar was rationed, Granny would give them homemade teacakes and milk while they waited. Southern people were so good to the soldiers. I worked in the local grocery store and food locker while finishing high school. We had to ration cigarettes to the soldiers. I operated the switchboard when Granny needed relief time. My grandfather (Mr. Sam Bond) stored garden vegetables under our house for winter use. He worked for the post office taking mail to the train and returning the incoming mail cart.” 

Granny (Mrs. Bond) worked 25 years for the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company with a starting salary of five cents an hour and never had a vacation.  “Back when people were cranking the wall telephones, I never dreamed I would live to see the day I would hear a phone ringing in someone’s pocket. Time marching on.”

Mr. Phillips owned and operated the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company until the terrible ice storm of 1951 when many lines were broken on the ground. Mr. Phillips patched the lines as well as he and his helpers could, but the infrastructure became impossible for him to resurrect, so in 1952 he sold the company to Ernest and Fontelle Sutherland. 

At the time the Sutherlands purchased the company, there were only 140 lines, or stations, as they were called, and the average phone bill was somewhere between $1.25 and $2. When they sold the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company, there were 3,100 lines or stations. So, after owning and vastly improving the company for 15 years, it passed from private ownership to a corporation. 

Many Mt. Juliet residents will remember Ernest Sutherland and his trusted assistant, James McFarland, climbing telephone poles for several years while repairing and improving the services of the Mt. Juliet Telephone Company. Mrs. Fontelle Sutherland ran the office with the multi-tasking assignments of managing the operators and raising a family. The children of Ernest and Fontelle Sutherland are: Frank, who most people will remember as the Editor of The Tennessean (now retired); Hoover, who has been in the automobile business for many years and is now with a dealership in Lebanon; Marilyn now lives in Lebanon; Cheryl is retired and living in Mt. Juliet; Glenn the youngest and is the manager of the Kroger Grocery Store in Mt. Juliet. This was a company, but it was also a social outlet for many Mt. Juliet residents and operators alike that now are very proud to have been employed there. Mr. Walter Phillips lived into his 90s and sadly, Mr. Ernest Sutherland passed away in 1988 at the age of 69. Mrs. Fontelle Sutherland still lives in Wilson County. 

If you have a story you would like to tell about Mt. Juliet History, contact Kenny Howell at (615)754-6111 or email 

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