Alfred C. Bayles
Port Washington’s First Telephone - 1885
By Glen J. DeSalvo – Trustee Emeritus, Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society
Alfred C. Bayles arrived in Port Washington in 1869 and by the turn of the nineteenth century he was one of the most prominent and respected citizens in the community. In 1872 he opened a candy store on the corner of Main Street and Shore Road. Less than ten years after Thomas Edison received a patent for his telephone, Bayles installed one of the new devices, Port Washington’s first telephone, in his candy store.
In the telephone directory issued on August 15, 1885 Bayles is listed as: “Bayles, A.C., Port Washington, Flushing 45-b.” As the Bayles store was connected to the Flushing Exchange; Flushing 45, the number Flushing 45-b was assigned to his store. In 1886 two additional phones were installed in town. One at the residence of J.W Goodwin and the other at the Sands Point Hotel. The hotel phone was discontinued in 1892 due to the building being destroyed by fire. A fourth telephone subscriber, Lloyd Brice of Sands Point, was issued number Flushing 45-f in 1891. Port Washington became a separate central office designation in 1892 listing the three phones in town as:
Port Washington 45-b: Bayles, A.C., drugs
Sands Point 45-f: Brice, Lloyd, residence
Port Washington 45-i: Goodwin, M, contractor
Alfred C. Bayles (CNPHS)
By 1901 there were 22 telephone subscribers in Port Washington including the Hotel Renwick and Castle Gould which added service in 1900. Almost fifty years after the first telephone was installed in his store, Bayles reminisced about this new attraction in town: “Most of the time we just took messages and delivered them to people here in the village. Many’s the time I trotted out on the old mare we used for delivery work to give a message. Then when people came in to use the telephone we would have to tell them how it worked. Funny thing, most people would shout their heads off trying to throw their voices as far as they could.”
Alfred C. Bayles was born on January 6, 1846 in Oyster Bay. Samuel Y. Bayles, his father, died when Alfred was three years old and Alfred was sent to live with his grandfather in Locust Valley. In 1868, after a formal education in Locust Valley, three years as a farm worker, clerk positions in Roslyn and Locust Valley, and the owner of a milk route in Brooklyn, Bayles accepted a clerk position at a drug store in Little Neck. One year later he moved to Port Washington to clerk in a local drug store. By 1872 he was ready to open his own store and that year he partnered with A.H. Baxter to open Baxter and Bayles on the corner of Shore Road and Main Street. Bayles bought out Baxter’s interest in the Partnership in 1880 and he would continue to operate his store for almost another 60 years.
Bayles’ early business was selling candy and pop. His store not only housed Port’s first telephone but during the late 1880’s also doubled as the Port Washington Post Office. The post office occupied an eight-foot square cubicle in the store. When the post office moved to another location in town Bayles converted the candy store into a drug store. When the current post office opened in 1935 Bayles was given the honorary privilege of purchasing the first three-cent stamp before the post office opened to the public.
On May 10, 1902, a fire destroyed the original store. The fire started at 10:15am in the Bayles barn behind his store and quickly spread to his store and the wood-frame structures on the north side of Main Street including Van Wicklen’s Ice Cream Saloon. The A. H. Baxter & Co. General Store across the street was saved from the fire by the quick response by the Port Washington, Roslyn, and Great Neck fire departments.
Bayles rebuilt a second store just west of the original location. It was probably not much larger than the first store. A main entrance was flanked by two large windows enabling pedestrians to gaze inside at the merchandise for sale. A new three-story brick building was completed in 1914 next to his 1902 store.
This building consisted of three retail stores on street level, eight offices on the second floor, and a large hall on the third floor which could be rented for special occasions. This building still stands today with the Dolphin Bookstore occupying the original space of the drugstore.
Bayles’ third building completed in 1914. Seen just to the left of this building is his second store built after the 1902 fire. The building to the right survived the 1902 fire. It was the residence of Dr. William I. Cocke, an early Port Washington physician. (Local postcard collection/Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society)
Alfred C. Bayles behind the counter of his third store around 1920. (Markham Collection/ CNPHS)
Alfred C. Bayles in front of his second store built in 1902. The two buildings to the right of the store were constructed after the fire but later razed for the construction of the third Bayles building completed in 1914. The building on the far right was used as a barber shop.
Interviewed in 1935, just a few weeks before his 90th birthday, Alfred cited work as the secret to old age: “Work is the secret of my old age. Before I was 17 I was out behind a plow, working from dawn to dark for $6.50 a week. When I had the candy store here, I used to get down at 4 o’clock in the morning, and work until the other shops had shut up for the night. No, I don’t drink, never have. I’ve had only one cigar in my life, and I didn’t smoke much of that.” Alfred lived another five years, passing away in 1941 at the age of ninety-five. He is buried in Nassau Knolls Cemetery along with his second wife, Ida C. Bayles, their son Alfred S. Bayles and his wife Ila L. Bayles.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Fire at Port Washington”, May 11, 1902
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Port Washington”, July 24, 1902
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Postmaster, 90, Gives Work Credit for Age”, November 24, 1935
Hazelton, Henry Isham, The Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens; Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 1609-1924 (Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York – Chicago, 1925) Vol. 5, 194
New York Times, “Alfred C. Bayles”, August 12, 1941
Portrait and Biographical Record of Queens County, Long Island, New York (Chapman Publishing Co., New York and Chicago, 1896) 575 - 576
Port Washington News, “Port’s First Telephone Was Placed in Bayles’ Pharmacy”, 1934