Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thomas W. Milburn in San Antonio

When Thomas Milburn died on 12 November 1944, the Dallas Morning News printed only a short death notice. “Milburn, Thomas W., passed away at residence, 3519 Lindenwood, Sunday. Survived by wife, Mrs. Anna Milburn; one daughter, Mrs. R. C. Mynatt; one son, J. D. Milburn; two grandchildren, Miss Dorothy Ann Mynatt, Mrs. Cathryn Milburn Cate; two great-grandchildren.” There was no obituary (that I've found) in the Dallas papers. Nor was there any in San Antonio, where Thomas lived before he moved to Dallas.

Here’s an early mention in a newspaper. Printed in the Galveston Daily News on 29 August 1878, in a series of items from San Antonio: “Miss Annie Pollmar and Thomas W. Milburn were married this morning [the 28th]. The bride is the daughter of Mr. Pollmar, printer, of this city; the groom is one of the telegraphers at this place.” (It’s interesting to me that their marriage was deemed worth reporting in Galveston. Was it the Pollmar family, or was it the telegraphy?) So Thomas was at that time associated with the telegraph, a fully standard piece of communication, unlike the very new-fangled telephone.

Looking at Morrison & Fourmy’s 1881 San Antonio city directory you can find the listing for Thomas Milburn which tells that he was simply a clerk at the Signal Office, which is to say a telegrapher. The same volume, in a sort of preface called San Antonio: Future Commercial Metropolis of Texas, carried this brief article pointing to the future.
A few months ago a telephone exchange was established in this city, under the management and control of Mr. J. K. Dunbar, and the patronage already extended to it makes its success a foregone conclusion. The present number of subscribers is about one hundred, and this number can be increased indefinitely. The lines are already extended all over the city, and into the suburbs, and it is safe to say that no one now enjoying its privileges would consent to give up this great aid to the business and professional man as well as private citizens.
Thomas took his experience of wired communications to a position working for Mr. Dunbar at the young telephone company. These were hectic years when the monopoly telephone system was taking shape, merging and acquiring and reorganizing its holdings over and over, doing battle with rivals like Western Union. Thomas was soon managing local and then regional operations, promoting long-distance service and encouraging the proliferation of exchanges in towns across Texas.

Studio portrait, with short hair going gray at the temples, a thin neck, large eyes. Suit is tight and straight.
Thomas Milburn in the 1880s.
And Texas was booming. After 1877, when the railroads connected Texas cities, the population swelled rapidly. Galveston had for a long time been the largest city in the state, but now San Antonio, which had been second, came to be for a while in first place. Before the Civil War a little more than 8,000 people lived there; by 1910 there were over 96,000. New people and new businesses, and sooner of later they all required telephone service. The growing telephone company was called early on the Erie Telegraph and Telephone Company. By the turn of the century it was known as Southwestern Telephone and Telegraph. It must have seemed as if the “indefinite increase” was the surest thing in the world.

An early title for T.W. Milburn at the phone company was South Division Superintendent. At some point he came to be called Circuit Manager. Thomas began, after some years in the operation at San Antonio, to shift toward Dallas. Newspapers in the mid-1890s talk about his travels around Texas, and little items mention him in Dallas in this period. He starts to show up in Dallas city directories. In April of 1899 it was announced in the Dallas Morning News that T.W. Milburn would shortly be taking the position of General Superintendent of the North Texas Division.

Someone made this picture of Texas telephone men meeting at the Akard Street headquarters in Dallas. An arrow points to the figure of Thomas Milburn standing somewhat apart on the steps near the doorway.

A row of men seems small in front of am imposing two story building with very large windows. Some are in shirtsleeves, some in suits.
Managers meeting at the Telephone Building, Dallas, about 1900

In 1900—the year, more or less, when this photo was made—the census records Thomas boarding at a Dallas hotel. His daughter Pamelia was with him. (The children must have accompanied their father to Dallas from time to time. Jack at fifteen was eager to follow his father into the modern world of telephones.) Anna, however, was still living in the house in San Antonio. She may have been reluctant to give up her life there, or she may have remained behind to care for her father who was ill (he died in 1902). But sometime shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, probably by the time that Pamelia married in 1903, Anna followed Thomas to Dallas, and the Milburn family was gone from San Antonio.

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