On April 15, 1903, W.G. Owenby and John H. Carter received a 20 year franchise from the city of Ellijay mayor and council to establish a metallic circuit telephone system. The corporate charter for Ellijay Telephone Exchange was granted April 13, 1904. The management of the company was under B.S. Holden until 1913 when Ed W. Watkins, Jr., M.D. and C.G. Watkins purchased the outstanding stock. The company did not grow rapidly, and in 1932 only 23 subscribers were listed in a joint telephone directory.
By 1946, the company had grown to 137 subscribers and Dr. Watkins sold the stock to Samuel B. Green, Edith M. Green, and Dorothy J. Green. Mr. S.B. Green continued managing the company to the mid-1950′s. Mr. Green was over 70 years old and wanted to spend more time in Florida. He started looking for a buyer for the company.
Albert Harrison had come to Ellijay in 1956 to look at the system and talk with Mr. Green. Terms were made with Mr. Green to purchase one-half of the common stock, with the option to purchase the remaining one-half within 2-3 years. Mr. Green wanted to retain an executive position and this was agreed upon.
The Harrison family was currently living in Springfield, Virginia. They had moved from California one year earlier to be closer to Albert’s job with Lenkurt Electric Company. Albert, Marian, and their 3 small children, John age 7, Marianne age 5, and Doug age 3, moved to Ellijay in 1958. It was a big risk to leave a secure job and purchase a small rural telephone company.
After the purchase the main goal was to get customers connected who desired to have service. Rural expansion had just begun, but rural customers were not actually connected. The manual cord board had been changed to dial. Most existing telephone lines were built from U.S. Army surplus wire about 12 to 14 feet above ground level. Appalachian Oak Flooring had 2 lines going in and was one of the biggest industries at the time. Counting the Harrison’s, the company now had a total of 8 employees, which was sufficient to serve the number of customers.
The biggest amazement was that only about 50% of the people wanted telephone service. They seemed to have no basic reason for confidence in the telephone system. When lines were built, they were constructed in accordance with responses and the company’s estimate of people who wanted service. As the confidence in telephones grew, so did the number of subscribers. In 1959, Quentin Holloway and Cleve Underwood were hired to work for $1.00 per hour. When asked why Quentin wanted to work for the telephone company, his reply was “wanted steady work”.
The remainder of common stock was purchased by the Harrison’s in 1960. This was the first year that the company operated at a profit. Fundamentally, the connection of more customers to the system was the reason for the profit.
Many improvements and changes have happened over the past 50 plus years the Harrison family has owned Ellijay Telephone Company. Careful thought and planning has helped Ellijay Telephone to become one of the leading independent companies in the nation. When asked why he decided to purchase the telephone company in Ellijay, Mr. Harrison replied: “I was looking to make a change. The only way to control my own environment was to be in my own business, and it was the only telephone company I could afford to buy.”