Walnut Hill Telephone Company: The Early Years

In this age where large telephone companies change their names at a dizzying rate, the name of the company that sends monthly bills to phone customers in Bradley has never changed:  the Walnut Hill Telephone Company.  How did a wide place in the road, like Walnut Hill is today, produce a company which has lasted for over a century?  With help from some of the public records in the Lafayette Circuit Clerk’s Office, we can reconstruct some of the details of the beginnings of the Walnut Hill Telephone Company.

The “Articles of Agreement and Incorporation of Walnut Hill Telephone Co.” are dated April 24, 1901, and can be found in Record Book E-3, at pages 354 to 358.  On that date, at 2:00 P.M., in the office of someone named “S. Hacker” at Walnut Hill, the incorporators of the company held their initial meeting. The incorporators were J. F. McKnight, S. Hacker, D. D. Hamiter, Eugene Hamiter, L. Herndon, Canfield Colbert, J. B. Maryman, Jr., G. M. Lee, R. R. Lee, T. H. Dismukes, and Frank Arline.

The corporation’s proposed business was “…to erect, construct, operate and maintain a local Telephone line and exchange, at and in the vicinity of Walnut Hill, and to erect, construct and maintain a Long Distance Telephone Line and Exchange from Walnut Hill, via Bradley, Frostville, Canfield, and Bolinger, to New Lewisville in Lafayette County, Arkansas.”

 J. F. McKnight was elected President, S. Hacker was elected Vice-President, and D. D. Hamiter was elected Secretary-Treasurer.  The other directors elected were L. Herndon, J. B. Maryman, Jr., G. M. Lee, and T. H. Dismukes.

The capital stock of the corporation was to be $2,500, of which $900 was actually initially paid in by the incorporators.  The value of each share was to be $25. The initial issuance of stock was as follows:  8 shares:  Frank Arline; 4 shares:  J. F. McKnight, S. Hacker, L. Herndon, and T. H. Dismukes; 2 shares:  D. D. Hamiter, Eugene Hamiter, Canfield Colbert, J. B. Maryman, Jr., G. M. Lee, and R. R. Lee.  Ironically, although Frank Arline owned the most shares, he was not elected either as an officer of the corporation or as one of its directors.

A little more than a year after the corporation was formed, on May 17, 1902, it amended its “Articles of Agreement.”  (Record Book H-3, at page 95)  The amount of the capital stock was increased from $2,500 to $5,000, enabling a fresh infusion of capital.  More importantly, however, for the long term future of the company, its purpose underwent a subtle change: “…to own, construct, purchase, operate, and maintain [a] local telephone system in the Town of Walnut Hill and New Lewisville, LaFayette County, Arkansas, and to connect the same by long distance wires, to operate a long distance system between said stations, and to extend and connect it [sic] lines from said points to any points or towns in said county as shall be determined by the directors of said company….”  In other words, instead of one local exchange at Walnut Hill with out-reaching long distance lines, there would henceforth be systems in both Walnut Hill and New Lewisville, which is known today simply as Lewisville.

On August 15, 1905, Walnut Hill Telephone Company filed an “Annual Statement” listing its condition as of July 1, 1905 (Record Book L-3, at page 435).  The Statement reflects $3,700 in “Capital Stock paid in,” “Accounts on hand” of $763.00, and “Cash on hand” of $251.44.  Stock was still valued at $25 per share, but it had undergone a significant growth and redistribution:  G. M. McKnight, 40 shares; J. F. McKnight, 38 shares; T. H. Dismukes, 34 shares; A. H. Hamiter, 22 shares; J. W. Warren, 7 shares; Josie McCormick, 5 shares; and Mrs. C. C. Hamiter, 2 shares. The Statement was signed by J. F. McKnight as President, and by G. M. McKnight as Secretary.

Another “Financial Statement” was filed on August 15, 1908, listing the company’s condition as of July 1, 1908.  (Record Book N-3, at page 585).  Total assets had risen to $7940.96, and the amount of capital stock actually paid in had risen to $4,550.00.  Debts were $3,154.00 and undivided profits of $236.96 were listed.  Stock distribution had changed, but not as drastically as in the previous statement.  G. M. McKnight owned 50 shares; J. F. McKnight and T. H. Dismukes each owned 42 shares; A. H. Hamiter owned 27 shares; J. W. Warren owned 8 shares; C. C. Hamiter owned 7 shares; and Josie McCormick owned 6 shares.

On July 25, 1908, the City of Bradley passed “An Ordinance to Grant Street Privileges for Telephone purposes to Walnut Hill Telephone Co.”  The company received the right for 50 years to “…erect and maintain on the streets, alleys and public way of Bradley, Arkansas, posts, fixtures and wires necessary and convenient for the purpose of supplying to the citizens of said town and public communication by telephone or other electrical device….”  This Ordinance is recorded in Record Book S-3, at page 201, and recites that it was “…passed by the Council, J. W. Barker, Mayor, J. M. Perry, Recorder.”  There is no mention of rates for telephone service in this ordinance.

A similar ordinance was passed by the Town of Lewisville about a month and a half later, on September 7, 1908, although its duration was only for 12 years.  It was recorded in Record Book S-3, at page 202, and was signed by W. J. Harrington, as Mayor, and L. D. Rogers, as Recorder.  The ordinance specified a maximum monthly rate for telephone service of $1.50 for residential customers and $2.50 for business customers. 

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