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Informer: Hemlock, Greenfield old Lake Charles phone exchanges

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:50 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

In the 1950s through the 1970s, I believe, there were lettered telephone prefixes used in Lake Charles. I remember one prefix was HE (Hemlock) and then the phone number. Would you please list other prefixes used, if possible?

Absolutely.

The old area prefixes, which were based on central phone office designations and were instituted beginning in 1954:

Hemlock — Lake Charles customers north of Prien Lake Road, along with those in Maplewood, Westlake, Gillis and Moss Bluff.

Greenfield — Lake Charles customers south of Prien Lake Road.

Jackson — Sulphur.

Lyric — Sweetlake.

State — DeQuincy.

Luther — Iowa.

Juniper — Vinton.

Justice — Carlyss.

“Under the new system, when it goes into effect, a typical Lake Charles number might be ‘Hemlock 3-2599,’ ” reads a March 17, 1954, American Press story announcing the new prefixes.

“To call the number it will be necessary to dial only the first two letters of the office name, followed by the five numerals. In other words, you would dial ‘HE-3-2599.’ ”

AT&T in the mid-1950s developed a list of recommended names to be used for telephone prefixes — an attempt to standardize a system being taxed by the growth in phone use nationwide.

The list consisted of families of five or six exchange names grouped under several dozen two-digit series. For example, the 43 Series had General, Geneva, Hemlock, Hempstead and Idlewood, and the 58 Series had Juniper, Juno, Justice, Ludlow and Luther.

Lake Charles got its second exchange, Greenfield, about two years after the new system took effect.

“It won’t be long before you will have to quit referring to Lake Charles as a one telephone exchange city,” reads a July 1, 1956, story. “For old Hemlock is destined to have a consort, by the name of Greenfield.”

The phone company began to phase out the system, called 2-5 numbering, in the 1960s, in favor of All-Number Calling. But many people continued to refer to the old exchange names well into the 1970s and beyond. An American Press columnist noted the lingering memory of those exchanges in March 1994.

“We’ve seen little things from the past disappear, like driving down ‘Boulevard’ (as in Enterprise), going to ‘The High’ (as in Lake Charles, now Lake Charles-Boston); and telling someone your telephone number is ‘HEmlock 9-1796,’ ” he wrote.

“People who have lived here a while know that ‘HEmlock’ — the first two letters corresponding with ‘43’ on a telephone dial — was downtown and ‘GReenfield’ (47) was the south side of town. In Sulphur, your phone number was ‘JAckson’ something.”

• • •

The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email informer@americanpress.com

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