Home Telephone Co. (HomeTel) is a family business that has a long-standing goal to provide the latest high-tech services to area residents and businesses. We have a proven history of ensuring our customers have the best services possible – as soon, or sooner, than anywhere else in the country.
Today, HomeTel serves approximately 950 customers in its 52 square-mile service area. Currently, we are in the process of upgrading our service area with a fiber optic network. Fiber to the Home (FTTH) technology allows telecommunications services to be transported over fiber optic cables—the best technology available. Fiber has virtually unlimited capacity to bring telephone, Internet, digital television, and other services to your home or business with very high quality and reliability. No other provider is making this kind of investment in the St. Jacob community.
How did it all begin?
Home Telephone Co. was formed on July 6, 1906 when 75 local residents met to expand the service beyond the single phone available at a local store. The new business was operated out of a house (thus, the name) and the first switchboard was located in a room attached to the East side of Gaffner’s Drug Store. The first owners of Home Telephone Co. were Frank Virgin and his son, Bert, and Phillip Baer and his son, Harold. In 1910, the business was sold to Edwin Michael and his son Oscar who moved the switchboard around a couple of times until it came to rest in a home at 411 N. Douglas St., in St. Jacob.
In 1923, Ed and Oscar Michael then sold the company to Edwin Frey and his son, Clarence. On March 1, 1927, the company and the house at 411 N. Douglas St. were sold to Roland Schmidt. Schmidt, a local dairy farmer, learned the electrical trade while serving in the Navy during World War 1. There were 304 telephone subscribers at that time.
The changeover from magneto (crank) to “dial” equipment in 1953 required a new central office switch. This equipment was placed in a new brick building at 409 N. Douglas, between the Schmidt’s house and the appliance showroom also owned by Roland Schmidt. At that time, the HomeTel business office moved and shared the appliance showroom location at 407 N. Douglas. The St. Jacob exchange was “cut over” to dial service at 3 p.m. September 3, 1953. Mrs. Schmidt served homemade sandwiches and doughnuts on tables in front of the office. Richard Schmidt remembers his mother frying over 400 Golden Puffs, a small round doughnut, the morning of the “cut over.”
Richard Schmidt joined his father as a partner in 1961 after graduating from college. In 1967, St. Jacob was converted to one party service with the rural areas following in 1971. Touch-tone service was made available to subscribers in 1971. (Some parts of the country didn’t get touch-tone until the 90s!)
HomeTel was the first Illinois Telephone Company outside of the Chicago area to offer Weathertel service. This new service brought telephone subscribers the latest immediate weather and an expanded forecast by just dialing a local number. The ceremonial first call was made by then Governor Dan Walker after he participated in the St. Jacob Village Homecoming in July 1974. Weathertel service is still in operation today.
The fifth and current location of the telephone central office is at 501 N. Douglas Street. To join the nationwide convergence to digital technology, a new central office and business office was built in 1993. The cutover to digital equipment was done in the pre-dawn hours on November 17, 1993. This conversion enabled HomeTel to become one of the first rural telephone providers to offer digital calling features (Caller ID, for example) and voice mail. While many parts of the country are still without high-speed Internet service, HomeTel first launched this great service in November 1998.
Since its beginnings as a provider of telephone service more than 100 years ago, HomeTel has transitioned into the next century with suite of advanced services including High-Speed Internet, Digital Cable Television, and Data Storage Services.
HomeTel continues to operate as a family business, now in its third generation, and strives to provide the latest high-tech services. While Richard Schmidt is still involved with HomeTel, his four children: Eric, Jason, Justin and Rachel are responsible for daily operations and new development. Gwen Kunz, Robert Butler, Beth Kocher and Kris Brissenden complete the team. We thank you for choosing HomeTel and look forward to many more years of service.