Radiotelephone Service to Europe and Beyond: The Pole Farm in Lawrence, New Jersey

Paramaribo, Willemstad: detail of Antenna map at the Pole Farm, Mercer Meadows.
Last Pole Standing, viewed from the Reed/Bryan farm.

The original telephone system connected phones by copper wire strung up on poles. These “land-lines” faced a problem when confronted with obstacles like the Atlantic ocean, so it was not possible to connect the phone systems of distant countries. In the 1920s, AT&T developed a way of using short wave radio to transmit telephone signals over long distances without wires. In 1928, AT&T bought several farms in Lawrence, New Jersey, cleared the land, and began building a vast antenna array for trans-Atlantic telephone calls. The facility, officially called the American Telegraph & Telephone International Radio Telephone Transmission Station, was only responsible for calls originating in the United States. A separate facility in Netcong, New Jersey, received incoming calls from overseas.

The Lawrence station became known as the Pole Farm because the rhombic antennas that AT&T installed at the site were arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern on wooden poles up to ten stories tall. Each antenna covered 10 acres and connected New Jersey and the rest of the U.S.A. with a single city in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, or South America. Hundreds of these poles were arranged over the 800 acre facility. Open areas between the poles were leased to farmers, who had to plow around the many antennas.

Fewer than 50 calls were made on an average day in 1929, in part because a three-minute call to England cost over thirty dollars. The station, however, allowed almost instantaneous communication across the Atlantic Ocean (once trained telephone operators had arranged the connection). By the 1960s, however, international calls were more affordable and over 16,000 telephone calls were transmitted daily through the Pole Farm.

The Pole Farm shut down in 1975, replaced by undersea cables and satellites. Where once there were hundreds of wooden poles, there is now only one. That pole, which once transmitted phone calls to Israel, survived because the farmhouse next to it used it as a lightning rod.

The last pole.

Two buildings, imaginatively named Building One and Building Two, bracketed the antenna field. Both buildings have been demolished, but a memorial to the facility, built over Building One, includes a large concrete and stone map set into the ground, showing the layout of the antennas around the time of World War II. Each antenna is labeled with the city to which it transmitted phone calls.

Berlin, Reykjavik, Moscow, London: detail of Antenna map at the Pole Farm, Mercer Meadows.

The Pole Farm is now part of the Mercer Meadows county park and features restored grasslands, nature trails, and interpretive signs.

Reference:

Yearley, Alexandra
2013 “Pole Farm” remembered in Mercer Meadows plans. https://communitynews.org/2013/02/01/pole-farm-remembered-in-mercer-meadows-plans/

1970s London Archaeologist Culture

Archaeologists on a tea break in London, 1974. Source: Hobley’s Heroes.

Hobley’s Heroes is an online archive that shows something of life as an archaeologist digging in London in the 1970s and 1980s, including dig site photos and an fanzine-like comic/workplace newsletter. Brian Hobley, Chief Urban Archaeologist, was their boss. It’s a fascinating repository that includes some far out field fashion and a glossary of the digger’s argot (“If in doubt, rip it out” was in use at least as early as 1974).

Hobley’s Heroes, Issue 1. 1975. Source: Hobley’s Heroes

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Free for All: The Vermont Archaeological Society and the Journal of Vermont Archaeology

The Vermont Archaeological Society is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and they have not only made  pdfs of their journal free to download, they have also made membership in the Society free.

The Journal of Vermont Archaeology has been published since 1994. In it, you can read about the squabble over who discovered Vermont’s first Paleoindian site.

Victor Rolando’s monograph 200 Years of Soot and Sweat: The History and Archeology of Vermont’s Iron, Charcoal, and Lime Industries, originally published in 1992,  is also available for download at their site.

Who Really Discovered the First Paleoindian Sites in Vermont?

In 1927, the Folsom site in New Mexico, which contained the distinctive fluted stone points of the same name directly associated with an extinct species of bison, was identified by archaeologists as the first Paleoindian site. In conjunction with the similar, but earlier, Clovis fluted points found at Blackwater Draw a few years later, these two sites provided clear evidence that humans had been present in the United States since the end of the Pleistocene.

As these discoveries became publicized and archaeologists looked for more examples of early sites, it soon became apparent that fluted points had been found in many states by amateur antiquarians, often as surface finds. Without good contextual data, however, no one had realized how old these points actually were.

In 1929, Vermont collector Benjamin Fisher read an article about the Folsom site in the New York Herald Tribune. He immediately wrote a letter to the scientist mentioned in the paper, Barnum Brown, at the American Museum of Natural History: Continue reading “Who Really Discovered the First Paleoindian Sites in Vermont?”

Coffeehouse Archaeology in England

Artifacts from the Claphams Coffeehouse assemblage. Source: Cressford et al. 2017: Figure 8.

Before England fell in love with tea, there was coffee. Beginning in the 1600s, coffeehouses spread through England. Historians think of them as the more polite, refined counterpoint to taverns and alehouses, a place where the customers – mostly male – could drink and discuss and debate the news of the day.

It’s a bit surprising that almost no coffeehouses have been explored archaeologically, but Craig Cessford and colleagues now describe artifacts, tightly dated to between 1770 and 1780, from a small brick cellar associated with Clapham’s Coffeehouse in Cambridge, England.
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