Eagle Feathers #68 – First Call
By Bob (Monty) Doherty
“It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, (except the inventor of the telephone.)” This was quoted from a letter Mark Twain sent to Gardiner Hubbard, father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. This was Twain’s reaction to phone usage in the 1890’s, much like today’s older generation’s reaction to the modern assault of today’s cell phone technology and its lack of ethics.
Like Mark Twain, we just have to grin and bear these changes. This is called progress. This progression began when the world’s first outside telephone call was received at One Arlington Street, Somerville. Through the years, this house has been owned by Nathan Tufts in 1858, and later by Charles Williams, Jr. in 1876. Bell invented this device in Charles Williams‘ electrical shop at 109 Court Street, Boston, and tested it there by making the first call to Williams’ house in Somerville. The first words spoken were “ahoy!” and later were replaced with the greeting “hello!” Williams became the first mass producer of the telephone and owner of telephone #1 at his home and telephone phone #2 at his shop.
Through the years, the name Tufts has often been synonymous with Somerville. Different branches and generations of the family left an indelible mark here. They witnessed the original events of Patriots Day, Bunker Hill Day, and the siege of Boston. Investing in grain, quarrying, brick manufacturing, and farming, they once had extensive land
holdings and operated businesses and farms throughout the city. Today, the historic 300 year-old Oliver Tufts House (1714), is the city’s oldest home and proudly stands on Sycamore Street. Samuel Tufts donated Somerville’s first cemetery in 1804. Charles Tufts gave the land to build his namesake Tufts College in 1852. Also, Nathan Tufts’ family donated the beautiful 4½ acre park in his name which contains the historic Powderhouse which became the city’s seal. Nathan was a successful businessman, a former Selectman, Alderman, and Somerville’s first Chief Engineer of the Fire Department. He was the man who built the handsome property at number One Arlington Street. Ironically, this old, stately house, the termination of the first outside telephone line, is for sale and by today’s trends possibly could go wireless.
If Mark Twain heard this, he might say, going wireless … The pigeons who have been roosting on these historic lines for the past 138 years will have to look for a new resting place!