ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Telephone Museum here recently received a $60,000 grant to help build a visitor center, which might help expand its visitor season.
The museum on Winkumpaugh Road has room for its massive antique telephone switchboards and other exhibits but doesn’t have a center to greet people and give them an overview of the history of the phone.
“This building will help us give a synopsis of the story of the telephone, so when people come in it won’t be overwhelming. Right now our tours sometimes go off track and last for hours because people get interested in different parts of the story. This will help focus the story and then people can come back and focus on different, specific aspects,” said Sandra Galley, vice president of the nonprofit museum.
Galley didn’t have details about how much money a new building might cost or a timeline for its construction but she said the expansion is necessary because the museum’s visitor tally has been increasing.
When The Telephone Museum opened 15 years ago, it was open for one event annually. Then it expanded to being open two days per week in the summer. For the past four years, the museum has been staying open four days each week in the summer and sees about 450 visitors. It is run by volunteers.
“As we get more people it became evident we weren’t going to serve visitors well with a Porta-Potty. Part of our initiative is to get restrooms, and the visitor center will do that. And it will have an office so we can do things year-round,” Galley said. “As it is, we pack up after summer. This will help us extend our season. That’s important because we want school groups to come in and learn about the history of our country.”
It’s difficult to get schoolchildren in the museum when it doesn’t have running water, added the museum’s treasurer, David Thompson. It’s also hard to educate young people when there is no central spot to talk to visitors, he said.
Thompson said this is unfortunate because many young people don’t know basic telecommunications history.
“There are teenagers who come in here and look at a disk with 10 holes in it. Do you know what I’m talking about? Teenagers don’t know how to use a telephone dial,” Thompson said.
The Ellsworth museum is interactive, he said.
“Everything works. When you come in here you learn how to be a telephone operator,” he said.
The $60,000 grant came from the Independent Telephone Historical Foundation.