The Telephone Exchange Building: 100 Years in the Making
Ameico Headquarters are located in an Historic building that was built in 1917 for Southern New England Telephone, as a switchboard facility. After falling into disrepair, AMEICO founder, Peter Kahane purchased this property in 2012. In partnership with State and Federal historic preservation trusts, this building was lovingly restored for and adaptive reuse project. We welcome all visitors and regularly host events for arts and design.
Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET)
SNET was formed in 1882, and counts among its precursors the first telephone company in the world, the New Haven Telephone Company, established in 1878, and the New Milford Telephone Company founded in 1880. These early dates are notable given that patents were filed in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell’s for the telephone, and by Tivador Puskás for the switchboard exchange that same year. By the 1910s the demand for telephone service increased and this triggered SNET to construct a number of new telephone exchange buildings in many Connecticut towns.
At the time of the 29 Church Street construction, the United States had been supplying all of war-embroiled Europe with raw and manufactured materials. Apparent on the exterior of the building is the use of different colored bricks from the front of the building to the rear. This is believed to be a result of the wide-spread shortages experienced in the domestic market due to the war effort.
However, the news articles of the day stated that “no expense was spared” in the construction of this “state of the art” building. Ample natural light, large resting rooms and a shower were provided on the second level at 29 Church. By the time of the US entry into the First World War in 1917, US telephone linemen and switchboard operators were called into service overseas as they brought strong skills in helping with troop and emergency communication. The women who served overseas were admired in the local communities from which they came.
By the mid-1950s SNET grew out of the facility and moved to a larger building nearby. In the 1980s it became one of the contributing structures leading to the establishment of a historic district of New Milford surrounding the Green. In the interim, 29 Church housed a temporary elementary school, a local chemical company, and served intermittently as town offices and the local Parks and Recreation center before it was closed due to growing concern with asbestos and lead contamination.
Following the acquisition of the building by Peter Kahane in July 2012, a complete state-supervised remediation was conducted. A year of renovations followed, led by local general contractor Glen Hochstetter of Hammersmith, Inc and an expert team of local tradesmen and suppliers. Motivated to keep the building as original As Possible, Kahane Engaged The Services Of Tod Bryant, Of Heritage Resources, Norwalk, CT And Collaborated With Historic Preservation Groups At The Federal, State And Municipal Levels.
Historic Preservation Tax Credits Were Granted To Kahane Upon Completion Of The Renovations, The First To Have Completed A Project Under This New State Incentive Program. Connecticut Light And Power, Purchasing A Portion Of The Tax Credit, Is Recognized For Its Support In Making The Restoration Of 29 Church Street Financially Possible. The AMEICO Office Occupied Its New Premises On December 30th, 2013, And Opened To The Public On June 15th, 2014. Visitors To 29 Church Street Can Enjoy Visiting Our Design Gallery, Our Library, And Our Store.
100 Year Celebration
AMEICO celebrated the centennial of the Southern New England Telephone Exchange Building in June of 2018. An exhibition of rare telephones were generously donated by local collectors: Mark Berghold, George Champion, and Nancy A. Davis; the earliest examples of which would have been found in households when 29 Church Street was constructed.
Elizabeth Peyron, Victoria Noble and Jeanne Hulton who joined the Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET) and worked at this location between 1946-1952. We were delighted to interview these three ladies and hear about the working conditions, routines, regulations and camaraderie of a telephone operator’s position starting just two years after the end of World War II.
Jeanne Hulton described working for SNET was like “being a part of a family, we organized outings and held wedding and baby showers for each other. We covered each other’s shifts when necessary.” Victoria described the layout of the building. There was a lounge, a locker room and a bathroom. Children of employees were allowed to visit their working mothers and relax in the, already mentioned, rooms.
Elizabeth recalled how the operators could sign up for any of the 4 hour shifts around the clock and no one would think twice about walking a few blocks home, as late as 11 pm.