Bell Telephone Building
By Ian Bussan
The presence of Bell, and later AT&T, in Holland has centered around this building since its completion in 1930. Today, the building is occupied mostly by business offices.
The Early Telephone in Holland
Alexander Graham Bell patented his design for the telephone in 1876, but Holland waited several years to receive its first long-distance service. This came in 1882 with a connection to Grand Rapids. While several private lines had existed beforehand, mostly between different businesses, this was Holland’s entrance into the growing telephone network of modern America.
The Michigan Bell Telephone Company, Bell’s regional affiliate, established a presence in Holland in 1883 when they were hired by a local company to connect Holland to an exchange room. By 1884, Holland was connected to various Michigan cities including Lansing and Jackson.
Michigan Bell faced stiff competition from Citizens Telephone out of Grand Rapids. Local support for Citizens gave that company a decisive edge but soon waned when Citizens took advantage of its local monopoly. Bell eventually ended the conflict by buying Citizens in 1923, taking the name Michigan State Telephone Company in the process.
Construction of the Holland Office
In early 1929, C. Eugene Ripley, manager of Michigan Bell’s Holland office, announced plans for a new three-story building on 10th street. The building allowed Bell to expand its operations and accommodate the steady growth of Holland’s communications grid. The cornerstone was laid in October that year, with speeches by Mayor Ernest Brooks and the president of the Chamber of Commerce.
During the dedication in August 1930, the first transatlantic call from Holland was made. The line connected to Gerrit Diekema’s office in The Hague, where he was serving as United States minister to the Netherlands. He offered his congratulations to his hometown for its increasing connection to the world.
For the next 60 years Bell occupied the building, eventually opening it up to local businesses in the late 1990s. AT&T continues to operate out of the building today.