Old Long Distance Phone Switching Station in SC


American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina
Date added: February 19, 2024 Categories: South Carolina Communications Facility Georgian Revival
Facade (West elevation) (1995)

The American Telephone & Telegraph Company Building is located at 124 North Palmetto Avenue in Denmark. It is significant for the role the American Telephone & Telegraph Company played in the development of the telephone and communications industry in early twentieth-century low-country South Carolina.

Denmark's first telephone office, opened in 1898, was in a rear room on the second floor of the Guess Building, at the corner of Palmetto Avenue and 8th Street. The American Telephone & Telegraph Company, constructing America's first long-distance network, built two long-distance lines that year; a north-south line between Lynchburg, Virginia, and Savannah, Georgia, and an east-west line between Charleston, South Carolina, and Montgomery, Alabama. When these lines crossed in the vicinity, Denmark became the most convenient place for a station. Switching stations were built whenever two long-distance telephone lines crossed, while repeater stations were necessary to amplify signals at periodic intervals, as signals weakened after traveling long distances along copper wires and cables. A new central office, occupying part of the second floor of a commercial building at the corner of Palmetto Avenue and 7th Street, was opened in 1903; telephone operations soon expanded and eventually occupied the entire building.

This building, begun in December 1921 and completed in April 1923, was constructed at a cost of some $300,000, and was described by American Telephone & Telegraph Company division plant engineer D.H. Woodward of Atlanta after it opened in June 1923: "That portion designed to house the equipment is of fireproof construction, while the remaining portion is of very substantial construction. The exterior is composed of Georgia brick laid in Flemish bond and presents a most pleasing appearance. The finished structure is modern and complete in every way and one of which Division 3, as well as the entire population of Denmark, is very proud." The editors of the Bamberg Herald called the new building "the most modern telephone plant in the south . . . [and] the last word in modern equipment" at the time. J.C. Beall, plant superintendent with headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., gave the editors and reporters of the Herald an extensive tour of the building. "We find it quite impossible to transcribe on paper the marvelous and wonderful mechanism that is employed to handle a long-distance telephone call or telegram," the Herald reported, explaining that the Denmark plant was the switching station for messages from the north and west continuing on to points further south.

Building Description

The American Telephone & Telegraph Company Building, located at 124 North Palmetto Avenue [U.S. Highway 321], at its corner with Hammond Street, is a two-story Georgian Revival brick building set upon a high basement featuring a beveled cast or limestone water table. Constructed under the supervision of T.N. Lacy, district plant superintendent, and D.H. Woodward, district plant engineer, both of Atlanta, the building's twelve-inch thick walls were completed in a finished brick laid in Flemish bond. The plan is an L-shape, with the focus of the five-bay wide facade the central entrance's classical limestone frontispiece, which now frames a double-leaf modern metal door with a fixed semicircular transom set deeply within a keystoned arched portal. Mahogany wood doors with a fanlight transom filled this space originally. Accessed by a brick and concrete flaring grand stair with iron railings with turn-out easements, the frontispiece consists of flanking Ionic order engaged columns with elongated capitals somewhat similar to those on the Erechtheion temple on the Acropolis, and a full entablature, and a segmental arched broken pediment with central cartouche displaying a bell in bas relief. Over the entry portal and incised into the entablature's frieze is "AMERICAN TELEPHONE & TELEGRAPH CO." Windows below the water table contain four-over-four light, double-hung sash, with two entrances along the rear elevation and one on the interior elevation of the rear ell. These entrances are accessed by stepped ramps behind pierced apron walls. Those on the main floor [piano nobile] of the facade (west), north and south elevations feature twelve-over-twelve light, double-hung sash set in blind arches with cast stone or limestone keys. A brick panel with jack arch equal in size to all other main-floor windows is present on the interior wall of the rear ell. A window above the central rear entrance contains four-over-eight light, double-hung sash, while a twelve-over-twelve light window appears between the main and upper floor and lights the interior staircase. The third level fenestration, which corresponds to that on the main floor, consists of eight-over-twelve light, double-hung sash and jack arches with cast or limestone keys. The building's exterior is capped with a cast or limestone cornice which runs along the facade and extends along both side elevations then wraps only slightly onto the rear elevation. A wide cast or limestone stringcourse extends from the cornice to continue the effect along the rear (east) elevation, only interrupted by a chimney at the interior corner of the rear ell. A brick parapet surrounds the building at the roofline to obscure the roof configuration and any rooftop mechanical equipment. It is pierced by decorative grilles which correspond to the windows below on only the front and rear elevations. On the side elevations are recessed brick panels. A cast stone or limestone coping finishes the parapet and is interrupted only slightly on the rear by a small brick flue. Both the chimney and flue are undecorated except for a cast stone or limestone coping at the top. A metal fire escape is on the rear of the ell and accesses a doorway with a transom on the third level, as well as the roof.

On the building's interior can still be seen the central hall's staircase with iron balustrade and wooden railing, plaster walls and ceilings, and red tile and linoleum-covered concrete and wood flooring. Radiators are still present as well as boilers, but none of this equipment remains in use. Bathrooms feature white ceramic tile, marble stalls, porcelain lavatories and tubs. All telephone equipment, including repeaters and mahogany switching boards, was removed from the building when it was vacated by Southern Bell Telephone Company in 1987.

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Facade (West elevation) (1995)
Facade (West elevation) (1995)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina North and Rear (East) elevations (1995)
North and Rear (East) elevations (1995)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina South Elevation (1995)
South Elevation (1995)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Historic Photograph (1930)
Historic Photograph (1930)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Facade Entrance (1999)
Facade Entrance (1999)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Facade Entrance Detail, Broken Pediment and Entablature (1999)
Facade Entrance Detail, Broken Pediment and Entablature (1999)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Facade Entrance Detail, Cartouche with Bas-Relief Bell (1999)
Facade Entrance Detail, Cartouche with Bas-Relief Bell (1999)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Facade Entrance Detail, Double-Leaf Metal Door (1999)
Facade Entrance Detail, Double-Leaf Metal Door (1999)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Central Hall looking toward Entrance (1999)
Central Hall looking toward Entrance (1999)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina Central Stair (1999)
Central Stair (1999)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina First Floor (1999)
First Floor (1999)

American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, Denmark South Carolina First Floor (1999)
First Floor (1999)