Sunday, February 23, 2014


Two days ago we published our latest Ocracoke Newsletter. This month's article is about the day in 1956 when telephones came to Ocracoke. The article included images of Ocracoke's first telephone book. Here is the link again:

In 1956 Ocracoke's "exchange name" was WAVERLY. Younger readers of this blog may not know that in the 1940s the Bell Telephone Company assigned every area an easy to remember word + a number. Ocracoke's exchange thus became WAVERLY 8.  To dial a number it was necessary to dial the first two letters of the exchange + the single digit...then the subscriber's unique four digit number.

Beginning in 1958, in response to the growing number of telephones in the US, the exchange name system was gradually changed to "all number calling." WAVERLY 8 thus became 928, the exchange that is still in use today.

If you look again at the telephone numbers in the 1956 Ocracoke directory you will notice that every four digit sequence begins with a 3 and ends with 1. In order to be a "walking local telephone directory" it was only necessary to remember the middle two digits of all 63 numbers. And to call locally it wasn't even necessary to include the WA (or 92). Dialling 8-3431, for example, was sufficient to call Jake Alligood.

In addition, even as late as the early 1980s, every Ocracoke number was essentially part of a modified party line system. Our family used this information for practical purposes. Dialing a local number as listed in the directory resulted in a series of discreet single rings; dialing a 2 for the last digit created a distinctive "double ring"; a 3 resulted in a "triple ring," and so forth. Our son's friends learned to dial a final 2 to let us know the call was for him; a final 3 meant the call was for our daughter.

Today island telephone numbers include any combination of the final four digits, and there are no longer distinctive rings. In addition, cell phones using various carriers have created a bewildering variety of ten digit number combinations...and caller ID displays have almost replaced the old-time art of remembering telephone numbers. 

Again, our latest Ocracoke Newsletter documents the day telephones came to the island. You can read the Newsletter here:


  1. I tried to post the day that post came out and then got distracted (shocking!)... Here, where I am, the exchange was ME for Melrose so we were Melrose-6. Mind you, I'm not old enough to have been around to remember that, but I bring it up, because... Where I live, if they were to go back to that system... no one would have to change their phone number :-D Yes, it's a less populated area.

  2. Julie S1:57 PM

    Living in rural Virginia as a child, I remember being punished (often!) for listening in on our party line. It was such a temptation and what a source of gossip!