The Baylor County Navigator’s Phone Book

Very few of the people included in the 2011 Baylor County Navigator’s Phone Book are pilots or guides of any sort. The designation of “Navigator” in the title is a holdover from the circular’s former identity as a bulletin for gold rushers first arriving in Baylor county on their way up to Klondike in Alaska at the turn of the century. The Baylor County Navigator’s Phone Book’s pre-cursor was published in 1899 and it was called Navigators and Guides. It cost 50 cents at the time.

Navigators and Guides was a booklet of advertisements, featuring local men (and a few women) of the land. These companionate adventurers were those both Native to the Americas and those of European extraction who had made Baylor County, WA their homestead some generations back. The book featured pages full of ads of various sizes, and many included drawn images showing  burly, scowling people holding rifles and knives. Some of the ads featured drawings of the sloops intended to take one far away north. Still others beckoned with maps of the North Pacific seaboard, flecked with impressionist trails to destiny.

Each ad contained written descriptions of the skills and expertise of the guides or even a list of the terrible waters and forests they had dared. Payment was usually to be received in the form of shared resources and a large percentage of whatever gold was found.

Navigators and Guides was published twice in 1899. By 1900 the rush was over. The boom towns in Alaska were draining back into the heartland. The foot traffic through Baylor county started to lag and reduce back to its pre-golden era. Many businesses faded away and, indeed, many of those navigators never returned, foisted away by some combination of new wealth, new adventures, or death in the ice.

Navigators and Guides, however, survived and in early 1900, the price of ad space began to decrease. Other inhabitants of Baylor County, perhaps not so brave and hardy but still sensible and hardworking, began using the booklet to market themselves and their trade. Historians with tours to share, widows with pies to sell, a few wilting entertainment houses that would accept gold as tender. Navigators and Guides lingered on into the next century.

Much to everyone’s surprise, by 1924, Navigators and Guides became the hottest publication in the whole state. A new kind of gold rush was already in full swing and Baylor county soon began to notice a tired string of flappers and yuppies escaping Los Angeles, looking for some peace and quiet in the countryside. To the delight of the city folk, anything vaguely cultural there was to do in this speck of a town could be found in a delightfully unadorned journal with the silliest name anyone could have thought up: Navigators and Guides. Indeed, the advertisements themselves were so earnest in their language that many of these city folk would cut them out and stage dramatic readings in their little apartments, slurping up the last of their wine glasses.

By 1928 it was fashionable to take out an ad for practically anything. The sillier, the better. At its most obscene, Navigators and Guides took on a Dadaist orientation, full to brimming with contradictory notices, lascivious invitations, and the printed horrified pleading of locals to please respect the circular and not take out ads unless they were for serious businesses. Sales soared. The publishers hardly knew what to do.

In the end, it all worked out quite nicely. The market crashed and most of the obnoxious upstarts were soon unable to afford space in Navigators and Guides unless it was to hawk a few pieces of costume jewelry or a satin dress. The publishers ultimately donated their excess fortunes to a children’s fund down in St. Paul and the whole town returned to a beleaguered status quo.

It was then that Navigators and Guides began to change. Church meetings were advertised in its pages. Proclamations of goodwill  and announcements for free food and clothing began to appear, usually anonymously or signed by the publishers themselves. The back of the circular became an index of charitable and relief organizations.

In the following decades, Navigators and Guides saw a diverse spectacle of customers. The thing that is notable to us, however, is the growth of its index section, essentially constituting what a modern reader would recognize easily as a “White Pages,” except without phone numbers, as the idea hadn’t been invented yet. But when Alexander Graham did finally get to work on his long distance communications machine, and started selling it to you and me and everyone we know, well. It almost goes without saying that Navigators and Guides became the world’s first and oldest phone book.

World’s First Phone Book is, incidentally, the catch phrase on the front cover of Baylor County Navigator’s Phone Book. The logo features a gold nugget and a pick ax.

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