In 1905 the family of Arthur D. Shaw was living on a farm located south of Bloomingdale. At that time there were several telephone companies in nearby towns, each town having its own company. The Kibbie Telephone Company served Bloomingdale, Linton-Baker Telephone Company served Berlamont and surrounding territories, Chicora Telephone Company served Chicora and so on, but there was no phone service available to Shaw.
In the winter of 1904-1905 Shaw’s infant son, born the previous August, became very ill of a respiratory ailment which made breathing alarmingly difficult. The nearest doctor, Dr. Scott, was in Bloomingdale. Dr. Scott had a Kibbie phone, but since Shaw did not he had to saddle his horse and ride to his neighbor, Baxter, who did have a phone. From Baxter’s home Shaw was able to call Dr. Scott for help. The incident ended favorably for the infant, but it set Shaw to thinking about his four children and occasions in the future when one of them might need emergency medical attention. He decided that he would have a telephone in his home.
Shaw explored the feasibility of an independent line with the lineman and maintenance man for the nearby Linton-Baker Telephone Company and found that the proper equipment was available if Shaw would furnish and set the poles.
During a social club meeting several days later, Shaw asked the neighbors if they would like to have a telephone. Each neighbor agreed, and contributed $14.00, roughly $300 today, to a common fund for supplies.
The poles were cut and set, wires were strung to each home and the fledgling future Bloomingdale Telephone Company was born. They were party lines with telephones housed in sturdy oak wall cabinets, each cabinet having a tilted mouthpiece, a receiver mounted on a pivoted hook, and a small crank for operating the ringing apparatus.
It was not long before the single “Shaw Line” was connected to an existing switchboard in Bloomingdale so that additional phones of adjacent companies could be reached through a switchboard operator. On March 16, 1908 Bloomingdale Telephone Company took over both the Kibbie Telephone Company and the “Shaw Lines”. A switchboard was purchased and subscribers were requested to pay a $1.00 membership fee to cover costs.
The first office of the new Bloomingdale Telephone Company was in a home on Spring Street in Bloomingdale. The Company continued to grow, partly by the addition of subscribers to existing or new lines and partly by absorbing adjacent companies.
In 1929 approval was given by the Michigan Power and Utilities Commission (MPUC) to Bloomingdale Telephone Company to take over the Chicora Telephone Company.
In 1947, the Linton-Baker Telephone Company of Berlamont requested that it be taken over by Bloomingdale Telephone Company.
The transfer of subscribers took place in 1951, when it was officially approved in a joint meeting of the Bloomingdale Telephone Company directors with the officials of the Linton-Baker Company.
However, Bloomingdale Telephone Company was ill prepared to service its new expanded territory. Because of a lack of funds, its aging plant had not been properly maintained in the Depression of the thirties and during the war years of the early forties. A large infusion of capital was necessary and attempts to borrow from the banks met with refusal, partly because of the lack of security for loans required and partly because of the co-operative structure of the Company. The apparent options available to the Company were to either go out of business or become part of a large telephone company such as Michigan Bell or General Telephone.
In 1948 Congress amended the Rural Electrification Administration Act to permit loans to rural telephone companies that were incorporated as stock-for-profit companies. Before Bloomingdale Telephone Company would take advantage of this R.E.A. opportunity it had to become a stock-for-profit company. The last cooperative board to preside over the company was George H Fritz (President), Clyde Burris, Ralph Remington, Roy Latchaw and Ralph Horton as directors.
A meeting of the owners was held in January of 1955 in which it was voted to convert Bloomingdale Telephone Company to a stock-for-profit company. This was a momentous decision and on October 31, 1955 a Certificate of Dissolution of the Bloomingdale Mutual Telephone Company, Inc. and the Articles of Association of the new Bloomingdale Telephone Company, Inc. were filed with the Michigan Corporation and Securities Commission. Thus ended one company and out of its ashes emerged another. Its incorporators were Ralph Remington, Roy Latchaw, Clyde Burris, Clifford Miller, and Ralph Horton.
The first loan from R.E.A. was made on October 28, 1957 to the new Bloomingdale Telephone Company, Inc. It was used to modernize the company’s plant by replacing outdated equipment with automatic switching. A new building was erected on the southwest corner of Kalamazoo and Van Buren Streets in Bloomingdale to house the new equipment, as well as adding shop and office space.
In 1969 approval to bury single party service lines was granted by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). The approval was hard won, as the MPSC had adopted a policy of not approving these types of requests. President Remington insisted that a hearing be scheduled, and backed by signatures on a petition approval was granted.
With the advent of touch-tone phones and electronic switching, Bloomingdale Telephone Company’s automatic switching apparatus became obsolete. Again, new equipment had to be purchased and this required the construction of a new building. Adjacent parcels of land were acquired and cleared during a period from 1975 to 1980 on which the additional buildings were constructed.
In 1980, pursuant to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, all telephones were converted to the modular type by installing plug-and-jack connections at the subscriber’s location. This enabled the subscribers to purchase and use their own phones.
In 1988 Rural Area Cablevision, Inc. was formed as a wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomingdale Telephone Company, and in 1989, the company organized another wholly owned subsidiary, Bloomingdale Communications, Inc. Primarily, Bloomingdale Communications was incorporated as a holding company for certain assets of the parent company, the principal asset being stock in Century Telephone Enterprises, Inc.
Bloomingdale Communications, Inc. acquired the Direct Broadcast Satellite franchise for Van Buren County in 1992. This agreement allowed the company to be a local provider for satellite service to residences and business throughout the county. In 2004, the franchise agreement with DIRECTV was concluded, but Bloomingdale Communications, Inc. still provides the service to Van Buren, and parts of Allegan Counties.
The 1990’s were a whirlwind of activity for Bloomingdale Telephone Company and its subsidiary. The digital switch was again replaced with a Nortel DMS-10, and all outside cable was buried. The company leapt into offering Internet service, and created its own website. Bloomingdale Communications installed its own server, and in the late 90’s became the first company in southwest Michigan to offer DSL service.
In April of 2000, the Retail Technology Store opened and immediately following the opening, the company began offering long distance services. In 2001, Allegan.net was purchased, and Internet service was again expanded. An addition was added to the warehouse east of town to accommodate the company’s rapid growth.
OnTrak Communications, a new subsidiary of Bloomingdale Telephone Company, was launched in 2006. The company was created to pioneer cutting edge fiber-optic technology. OnTrak broke ground on the new project in June of 2006, and construction in the Village of Paw Paw was completed in the spring of 2007. The first customers were installed and activated, and a year later the company had gained over 400 customers. OnTrak offers home telephone, high-speed Internet and digital video all over fiber optic lines buried up to customers’ homes.
In 2008, the decision was made to re-brand OnTrak Communications under the Bloomingdale Communications name in order to pull the company’s history and involvement in the community together as one solid entity. A history never ends; it merely pauses to note what was done. This is a brief snapshot in time, and Bloomingdale Telephone Company will continue to make great strides in technology, creating great history to come.