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Stories from the valley

The Roseville Telephone Museum: A Hidden Historic Gem

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

Fascinating! Impressive! Spectacular! All three are apt descriptions of the Roseville Telephone Museum located in the heart of Downtown Roseville. I discovered this (very well) hidden gem while performing an online search, and I’m so glad I did. My husband and I spent two delightful hours touring the museum, commenting frequently about what a wonderful discovery I’d made.

The museum chronicles the history of the Roseville Telephone Company, from its inception in 1914 through its transition to SureWest Communications in 2000 to its acquisition by Consolidated Communications in 2012. A lot has changed since the days the company’s 160 rural customers were served by the still-functioning magneto switchboard that’s on display.

Knowledgeable docents—current or retired employees of the telephone company who volunteer their time—are on hand to escort visitors through the museum and share their expertise. They bring history to life as they demonstrate the various pieces of equipment.

Our guide placed a call on the historic switchboard for us, including inserting the two wires into the appropriate ports to complete the connection like we’ve seen in the movies. He then showed us how rotary phone calls were processed using the step-by-step switch, with each spin of the phone’s dial resulting in lots of clicking and clacking in the huge piece of equipment. A different docent had serviced the switch installed at the precursor to the California Rice Commission and remembered the build-up of rice dust inside. Despite the white powder coating, he said the switch worked remarkably well, evidence of how durable early telephone equipment was.

Before opening the museum in 1994, the Roseville Telephone Company spent five years collecting and curating telephones and other equipment from national and international phone service providers, resulting in one of the finest collections in the country. Visitors will delight in a variety of displays featuring wooden box phones, candlestick phones, classic rotary phones, novelty phones, and more. There are several cases filled with insulators in many sizes, shapes, and colors. One room houses a mock manhole plus equipment used in the field, including a long-handled shovel still in use today when tight quarters warrant it. A special hands-on table allows kids to experience the lost art of dialing a rotary phone.

The Roseville Telephone Museum is open the first Saturday of the month (July excluded) from 10 am – 2 pm. Private tours can be arranged for groups of ten or more using the contact information on the website. I highly recommend paying this museum a visit. You’re sure to be as impressed as I was.