119 South Main
AT&T Booster Station


The building at the corner of South Main and Park is a handsome, rare example of an Art Deco building in Edwardsville. Built in the midst of the Great Depression, this architectural gem provided jobs in a depressed economy and, due to its unique profile, has become a local landmark. According to architectural historian Joe Weber, it is a textbook example of commercial Art Deco design as illustrated by the relief brick work in geometric patterns.

A 1961 view of the Bell Telephone business office where customers could pay their bills. At the front dfesks from left: Rosalee Boland and Betty Ashauer; Manager Kenneth Evers is pictured far right. (MCHS; Joan Evers Collection)

Plans for an American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) booster station were made public on August 20, 1930. The booster station was needed to improve connections and long-distance services on the New York – St. Louis Cable Line. An amplifying station was required every 50 miles at that time to “boost” the voice in long distance calls.

The economic impact of this decision was recognized immediately by the editor of the Edwardsville Intelligencer who urged the city council to do “anything within reason …to insure the construction of the booster plant here.” AT& T’s request to the city council for permission to tear up streets along a two-mile route where cables would be buried under streets and sidewalks was granted with replacement considerations.

The station was to be a two-story, fire-proof, modern building with “sufficient foundation to carry an additional four stories.” The plan was to fulfill future needs for expansion by constructing additional floors on the building. Although the actual cost is unknown, the preconstruction estimate was $75,000 for the building alone with an additional $100,000 in equipment plus the cost of laying the underground conduit.

But before they could start the new building, they had to purchase and remove one already on the property. The Louis Hartung family sold their home at the corner of South Main and Park Streets to AT&T and within a few months were settled in a house on Center Street.

The contract to build the station was awarded to Hellrung Construction of Alton with the stipulation that as many local workmen as possible be hired for the project, and that was the case.

William Tomasek of Edwardsville was hired for excavation work. It was considered a two-story building but actually consisted of a basement plus a first floor five feet above ground level. Contrary to impressions today, the building was reported as having a deep set-back from the street. Since then, the street has been widened to the extent that many wonder why the building was placed so close to the street.

The contract for roofing went to Edwardsville Roofing Company, operated by Ray Crossman.

The roof was considered the first of its kind in Edwardsville, with an insulating layer of cork, followed by a layer of tar, topped with gravel. The roof was supposed to withstand any type of weather and provide a fireproof surface as well.

Photo of 119 S. Main Street, circa 2012. (Reinhardt)

In July 1931, equipment for the building began to arrive, four freight-car loads according to an Intelligencer source at the time. Included in the equipment were 50 large batteries, enough to keep the station running for up to 24 hours in case of a power outage. By September, the plant was in operation. In the beginning, the building was only a booster station. The local telephone office was down the street at 131 N. Main St. next to the Edwardsville National Bank building which was on the corner of Main and St. Louis Streets. This is where the telephone operators worked, and where the telephone company’s business office was located.

After renovations at the booster station in late 1946, the Illinois Bell Telephone business office was moved to the first floor of the booster station at 119 S. Main St.. Many residents of Edwardsville today remember paying their phone bill at that location.

In March 1958, the Edwardsville National Bank decided to expand their facility. Plans were already in the works for a big technical advance in phone usage: direct dial service. With direct dial on the horizon and the loss of their building, a new facility for the telephone operators was not sought in Edwardsville. Instead, operators were offered positions in existing facilities in Collinsville, Alton or East St. Louis. Direct-dial service which eliminated many operatorpositions was implemented in 1962.

Blueprint drawing of 119 S. Main Street, 1930 (MCHS; Joan Evers Collection)

In 1974, Illinois Bell Telephone Company purchased the former Malench medical building at220 St. Louis Street. In an interview at the time, Manager Kenneth Evers said the company had outgrown the old building and that the new location would be more convenient for customers Renovations were completed and the new office at 220 St. Louis St. opened in January 1975.

The Art Deco building at South Main and Park Streets was put on the market the following fall. On December 12, 1976, Stahly Cartage Company announced an Open House for their new business office. According to Jeff Wohlford of Stahly Cartage, since it was designed to be fire-proof, the building had no wood in it when they purchased it. Since then the cavernous rooms of the booster station have been divided into offices and conference space. Headquarters for Stahly Cartage, a transportation company with terminals all over the Midwest, was located at the former booster station for over 35 years.

The architecture of this building certainly made a contribution to our community. But more importantly, when it was built, the financial contribution of AT&T was desperately needed in Edwardsville. Louise Ahrens, a former employee of Illinois Bell, told the story of how in just one month in 1932, forty-five people in Edwardsville cancelled telephone service, because they could no longer afford it. Telephone operators took a cut in pay as well as a cut in hours. While the local company, Illinois Bell, was suffering, the national network of AT&T continued to build services. This major construction project brought both jobs and beauty to Edwardsville.

This article was originally written in 2012. In the years since then, the building was empty for nearly a decade. Recently, it was purchased and renovated by the Bank of Madison County. The Edwardsville location of the Bank of Madison County may be only two years old, but they hav connected to our history, and this particular contribution is greatly appreciated.

Information for this article was obtained from past issues of the Edwardsville Intelligencer and information provided by Mrs. Joan Evers. If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at 618-656-1294 or cindy.reinhardt@madcohistory.org.

Originally published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer on May 5, 2012. Revised 2023