New England Museum of Telephony

One of the most delightful museums of telephony is the New England Museum of Telephony in Ellsworth, Maine. Unlike many museums this is a hands-on experience and there are no glass cases keeping visitors from getting close to the equipment. There are lots of opportunities to play with telephone equipment and the staff are both friendly and knowledgeable. Here's how to find them:

166 Winkumpaugh Road
P.O. Box 1377
Ellsworth, Maine, 04605

They are located very close to Bar Harbor and the Acadia National Park. They're open during the summer and it should be easy to arrange a visit if you're vacationing anywhere near there.

The images below give only a very general impression of the goodies that are in the museum. Click on any of them to see a larger version. These pictures were taken during the Sixth Annual Telephone Fair on August 10, 2002. My thanks to Charles and Sandra Galley who were our guides through the collection. Also special thanks to all the other museum volunteers who made this Fair a delightful experience!

The museum has a number of operating central office switches including several step-by-step switches and a #3 crossbar switch. There is a large #5 crossbar that is undergoing restoration too. There are a lot of telephones scattered over the museum grounds and they work! You can pick up a phone anywhere and be sure of talking to someone on the site.

Here's what the outside of the museum looks like. The phones to the right of the door are only a few that are available.

Museum entrance

Let's start with switchboards. These are arranged in approximate chronological order from the earliest on the left to the newer ones on the right.

SwitchboardSwitchboardSwitchboardMilitary switchboard1950 switchboard1960 switchboard

Jean Leboucher was operating one of the boards during the Fair and it appears that she was taking a break when I took this picture:

Jean at the switchboard

The step switch was the first fully automated central office technology and it was first deployed in commercial operation in 1892. The inventor of the step switch, Almon B. Strowger (1839-1902), made a guest appearance during the fair. Thanks to Doug Arntzen for the resurrection!

Almon Strowger Strowger's business cardStep switchStep switchStep switchStep switch

The next generation of automatic switching was the crossbar. The ex-Belfast, Maine switch is a #5 crossbar undergoing restoration.

Crossbar frameCrossbar frameCrossbar contactsCrossbar contactsCrossbar wiring

Here's the power control unit that keeps the battery bank charged and regulates the DC to the switches.

CO Power panel

Here are a few examples of customer premises equipment (CPE). The table with the "garage" for the phone is a classic! The bubble outdoor pay phone is great too.

Crank phonePhone furnitureVarious phonesBubble payphoneBubble payphone

The little island of Frenchboro, Maine, had this central office switch for a number of years. It served about 37 subscribers. Jeff Webber (in the second image with the switch) was responsible for forming the Island Telephone Company and building this CO. It's only 8 feet wide so that it would fit on the ferry that links Frenchboro to the mainland. The third picture shows the battery bank on the left that provides the traditional 48 volt for the switch. The batteries just to the right of it provide 24 volts for the microwave link to the mainland. The microwave equipment is in the image at the far right.

Frenchboro COJeff Webber & switchFrenchboro batteriesMicrowave links Microwave links

Finally, here are some examples of outside plant equipment. The first truck is a 1929 Ford equipped with a cedar pole and a "pole dinky", the little wheel carrier at the rear. The other truck is a military surplus pole hole digger.

1920's phone truck1920's phone truckMilitary pole setting truck

The museum has plans to expand and to restore and display many of the items now in storage. Write to them regarding membership and getting on their mailing list.

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