A Pay Phone, Then a Party Line: Using the Phone in The Catskills

17 Dec

Recently I wrote a blog about doing the laundry in the Catskills. (See blog below.) Several of my friends who spent their summers with me in Kauneonga Lake, and my brother, felt I left out one important aspect of the laundry shed: the pay telephone.

In our small colony, owned by my maternal grandparents, the pay phone was also located in the laundry shed. The only way of communication for almost all the residents of the colony to the outside world.  If they needed to call their husbands, doctors, restaurants, anything, this was the only place to make a call or to get a call. Our colony was small, so when someone did get a call, the person standing closest to the phone would answer it and send a child to go get the call recipient!  Of course all the children loved to answer the phone. At larger colonies there was an loudspeaker system to call people to the phones. (See blog below.)

I think, but since I was a child, I am not sure, that the Moms had set times and days when they spoke to their husbands during the week. 

The phone my friend has from the bungalow colony.

The telephone has long disappeared.  However, when reading my blog, one of my friends told me that she had the phone, and sent a picture.  I do not know how she got the wall phone she had.  But though I thought the number was correct, the phone was wrong.  There was no place for the money.  And our pay phone definitely was a commercial one with coin slots.

Now I did say that the pay phone was the only way to communicate. But that is not totally true. My grandparents had their own separate line because they owned the colony and would need to call local people like the plumber or electrician. So if my Dad wanted to call my Mom, they had this private line to speak. Also if there was a true emergency, my grandparents would call for help.  You did not need to use the pay phone.  Hmmmmm. I wonder if the phone my friend has is the one from my grandparent’s bungalow?  Could be.

In 1963 our phone life and summer life changed. My grandparents purchased a winter/all year house about 1/3 mile up Lake Shore Road from the bungalows.  Behind the house was a bungalow that became our summer home.  This was both fun and sad.  We had a bigger bungalow, we had our grandparents, and my parents had some peace and quiet, but we were no longer at the colony at night for fun activities or on rainy days with the other children.  However, there was an apartment at the house, where one of my friends stayed.  (See blog below.). But we were no longer part of the rhythm of the colony on a daily basis. 

Communications changed as well.  People started getting phone lines. They were not completely private. People would get Party Lines.  That is what we had at the bungalow up the hill. My grandparents and my parents shared a party line.  We were so excited to have our own phone.  But it had its now side as well.

The phone lines had slightly different rings, so you knew when you were being called. And we had a special way to call down to my grandparents so they knew we wanted to speak to them.  If you picked up the line when the other people were using it, you would hear them speaking.  In fact, if you were quiet then you could listen to the entire conversation.

That was a bit crazy, cause my grandmother sometimes would listen in!!! My MOM would get furious.  And they would have a big argument!

Here is my brother’s memory:

“Yes. She (Grandma)never said anything just listened. She was really good at it,
and I think many times we did not even know she was listening. Mom
would know when Grandma knew things that she had not been told! It was
one of the things that I remember Mom arguing with Grandma about!”

Since my grandparents lived in the Catskills throughout the year after 1969 when my Grandfather retired, their phone line would be on all year long, while our phone line would be turned off after Labor Day.

But eventually, everyone got their own private phone lines.  It was amazing.  I could call my aunt at the bungalows and find out what was going on with my cousins.  Were they going to the movies? What were the plans for the rainy day or the evening? That was what we were missing when we first moved to the bungalow by the house.  

When we were teenagers, those phones were even more important for when we made plans with our friends and cousins.

The days of the payphone and party lines ended in our colony, but the memory of the times when two people needed to make a call.  Or watching when a teenager was on the phone trying to find a private spot….there was an extremely long cord. Or wondering if my Grandma was listening on the line….I have to admit, every once in a while I listened in on my Grandma’s call. Mainly because I needed to make a call and she was already on the line.




10 Responses to “A Pay Phone, Then a Party Line: Using the Phone in The Catskills”

  1. Susan Lefelstein December 17, 2020 at 6:43 pm #

    what was the name of the colony? We stayed at Mintz

    • zicharon December 17, 2020 at 6:44 pm #

      It was very small: Amsterdam’s Bungalows on West Shore Drive, Kauneonga Lake.

      • bobby bank December 17, 2020 at 11:42 pm #

        we were a little further up at Freedmans Lakeroad Cottages next to Sheppys if u went a little further on Hurd Road you ended up at the Yasgar place

      • zicharon December 18, 2020 at 7:09 am #

        I know exactly where you were. Sheppys was near Happy Avenue.

  2. Amy December 18, 2020 at 7:34 am #

    It’s hard to imagine these days when everyone walks around with a phone in their pocket that once we had to use pay phones. And when we were teens going out at night, that was both a blessing (our parents couldn’t call and annoy us) and a curse (we had to hunt for a pay phone if we were late or needed help). I never experienced a party line though!

    • zicharon December 18, 2020 at 7:39 am #

      I know, I look back at it and remember my grandma telling of a time before cars. And when she saw the first cars in NYC. Party lines were a bane and a blessing.

  3. Sharon December 18, 2020 at 9:19 am #

    What a wonderful post. Memories…it’s so hard to believe how far we have come with communication/phones. I remember having a party line as late as the 80’s in our summer home in Utah.

    • zicharon December 18, 2020 at 1:57 pm #

      I know. Truly amazing! We barely can go out without our phones now.

  4. Ron Heller December 30, 2020 at 12:33 pm #

    I just stumbled on your site, and it brings back memories long ago forgotten. My great-uncle was Joe Klein and in summers when I was very little we stayed at his bungalow colony on Kauneonga Lake, and at Stein’s across the road.

    • zicharon December 30, 2020 at 12:58 pm #

      My grandparents own a colony on West Shore Road opposite the lake. It was an excellent spot to spend the summers so I have many wonderful memories. I hope you enjoy them!

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