Curator Rogers Kaufman proudly poses amongst a collection of telephones from the 1890s to the 1970s.
Nestled in the quiet town of Gridley is a collection commemorating over a century of rural telecommunication. More than an assortment of phones, it offers a look back to life in a small, midwestern town.
“We had all these telephones and we wanted to do something with them. We didn’t want to burn them or throw them away,” curator and former owner of Gridley Telephone Company Rogers Kaufman explains. The collection of a lifetime of an independent telephone company had accumulated in the company’s basement, but it could be put to better use on public display. A not-for-profit organization, the Telephone Museum Foundation of Gridley, was formed from donations and grant money from state and independent telephone companies.
Museum visitors enter a re-creation of the telephone company’s office as it looked in 1920. In the “lobby” stands a wooden phone booth, double-walled for privacy, along with a bench for customers to wait their turn on the phone or to talk to an operator. Local calls were free to customers (a 10 cent value). Many chose to come into the office to use the phone booth because it afforded privacy while at home they were on party lines that could be eavesdropped.
“They had party lines. In the country there would be 10 or 12 on a line, so if you’re talking business or to your girlfriend, you’d come in here and use this phone instead of letting your neighbors listen to you. It’s amazing, for many that was their pastime,” Kaufman laughs.
Plan your trip today!
Gridley Telephone Museum
318 N. Center St., Gridley, IL 61744
Open mid-March through December
Mon.- Fri.: 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Sat.: 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Phone first! 309-747-3177
Guided Tours of 10 or more people: 309-747-4118
For curator Kaufman and volunteer tour guide Carol Flesher the museum displays their families’ histories. Carol’s father, Charles Hoobler, owned Gridley Telephone Company from 1914-1970, and photos in the collection show him at work beside a telephone truck, and on a bed beside the switchboard when he was the night operator. Kaufman spent years installing telephone systems across the U.S. for Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Co. before returning home to Gridley and purchasing the telephone company in 1970. Until a few years ago, his son owned the company and Flesher’s son still works there.
It is with a great deal of delight and pride these two guide visitors through the collection. They chuckle while telling anecdotal explanations of many of the items in the museum, such as the pickle pickers or the 1935 payroll for operators. Their recollections bring alive Gridley’s history for the nostalgic as well as the uninitiated.
Tour groups often visit, including the Red Hat Society and school children from nearby Bloomington. Flesher beams as she recalls the many children who have passed through the museum. “They’ll ask intelligent questions on how things work, or what the lightning arrestors were for, but they don’t even know how to dial a rotary phone.”
A big hit is the working 1946 Kellogg Universal two position switchboard and magneto telephones. With a little instruction, visitors can place calls to other telephones within the museum and learn how fast-paced the job was for a switchboard operator.
© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.