Na­tional His­toric Phone Booth Gets New Sign

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Bow­den

PRAIRIE GROVE — It must be a sign of the times.

A bronze plaque was in­stalled Thurs­day in front of the Colo­nial Mo­tel.

It hon­ors the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of … a tele­phone booth.

The sign reads: 1959 Prairie Grove Tele­phone Co. phone booth has been listed in the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places by the United States De­part­ment of the In­te­rior.

It was the first — and so far the only — tele­phone booth to make the ven­er­a­ble list, said Ralph Wil­cox, the Na­tional Reg­is­ter/ sur­vey co­or­di­na­tor for the Arkansas His­toric Preser­va­tion Pro­gram.

“I think the sign is a great way to let peo­ple know the his­toric sig­nif­i­cance of the tele­phone booth as

well as al­low­ing peo­ple to un­der­stand that the Na­tional Reg­is­ter isn’t just about grand houses, churches or ceme­ter­ies,” he said.

Wil­cox nom­i­nated the phone booth and re­sub­mit­ted the pa­per­work to con­vince the Na­tional Reg­is­ter pro­gram to list the prop­erty, which it did in Novem­ber 2015. Be­fore the Airlight out­door tele­phone booth was de­vel­oped in 1954, phone booths were made of wood and were in­side build­ings, Wil­cox wrote in the nom­i­na­tion.

But the metal-and-glass Airlight booth changed all that, with its red pan­els, bi-fold door and in­te­rior light. Tele­phone booths were once com­mon along high­ways across Amer­ica. Ac­cord­ing to the nom­i­na­tion form, there were 2.6 mil­lion pay phones in the United States by 1996. But, while pay phones still ex­ist, phone booths have be­come harder to find since cel­lu­lar phones took over the mar­ket.

Wil­cox said the Prairie Grove phone booth is rare in Arkansas be­cause it has a work­ing tele­phone. The only other one in the state that he knows of is in Bluffton in Yell County, where there is no cell­phone ser­vice. Su­san Parks-Spencer, a mem­ber of the Prairie Grove Tele­phone Co. board, said the sign cost them $558.

“It was worth it,” she said. The tele­phone com­pany wasn’t in a big hurry. The sign, which was made by Franklin Bronze Plaques of Franklin, Pa., ar­rived sev­eral weeks ago. David Parks, pres­i­dent of the Prairie Grove Tele­phone Co., said they put the sign on hold more than once.

“We thought we would do it but it got put on the back burner and de­layed,” he said.

Larry Oel­rich, Prairie Grove’s di­rec­tor of pub­lic works and ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices, said he drives by the phone booth about 20 times a day.

“A day doesn’t go by when I don’t see peo­ple tak­ing pic­tures at the phone booth.”

The pho­tos some­times in­clude chil­dren dressed as Superman. In 2014, the phone booth was mowed down by a doz­ing mo­torist. But it was re­paired and re­stored, re­tain­ing the clas­sic mid-cen­tury tele­phone booth look with the red “TELE­PHONE” sign along the top.

Be­cause it yielded only about $4 a year in quar­ters, Parks de­cided last year to con­vert the phone in the booth to be free for lo­cal calls around Prairie Grove and Fayet­teville, which is 13 miles to the north­east.

Erma and Guy Matthews have owned the Colo­nial Mo­tel since 1976.

Erma Matthews said the phone booth doesn’t seem to be a travel des­ti­na­tion, but peo­ple stop when they see it.

“We get lots of peo­ple stop­ping there to take pic­tures.”

The phone com­pany planned to put the sign on one side of the booth, but Matthews asked them to move it to the other, where a post ob­structs her lawn­mower. “I have to weed eat there,” she said. She didn’t want to have to weed eat on both sides of the booth.

The phone booth is along Dou­glas Street, also known as U.S. 62 Busi­ness, and across from Prairie Grove Bat­tle­field State Park

“It’s just re­mark­able to be on the His­toric Reg­is­ter for the Prairie Grove bat­tle­field and the phone booth,” said Sharon Glover of Prairie Grove.

LYNN KUT­TER EN­TER­PRISE-LEADER

Prairie Grove’s tele­phone booth now has a sign telling vis­i­tors the 1959 booth is listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. It is owned by PG Telco.

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