Help save a part of engineering history

-December 18, 2014

We all know the famous words of Alexander Graham Bell, "Mr. Watson. Come Here. I need you" spoken in 1876. That first use of a telephone occurred in Bell's lab in Boston. Of course, Bell didn't stop there. His lab occupied space at the Charles Williams Jr. shop where Williams manufactured telegraph equipment. Because of that relationship, Williams' home at 1 Arlington St. in Somerville, Mass. was the first to have a permanent telephone line. Installed on April 4, 1877, the line connected Williams factory at 109 Court St. to 1 Arlington St. Now, we have a chance to save a piece of engineering history by helping to turn the house into a museum.

The house is currently on the market, and Vincent Valentine, founder of The Telephone Museum wants to house his museum there. He's asking the engineering community for help raising the money needed to acquire and upgrade the historic house. I met Valentine and real-estate agent Thalia Tringo on December 16 for a tour of the house.

Valentine has been taking telephones apart since before he was tall enough to reach them on the wall where he grew up. "When I was eight years old, I could completely disassemble and reassemble a Western Electric Telephone Model 500 in less than 90 minutes with a butter knife. This lead me to take more things apart: tape recorders, televisions, and walkie-talkies, and anything else electric. That insatiable curiosity and discovery with the telephone compelled me to become an electrical engineer." In the video below taken at the Williams house, Valentine explains some of the house's history.

Valentine conducts workshops for children at local schools where they take telephones apart and learn how they work. "It all comes down to Ohm's Law," he said. "I want to create a museum and workshop to excite young people into becoming engineers."

Acquiring the Williams house is no small task. The asking price is $899,000—this is Boston and Somerville's real-estate market is hot right now. Valentine has set up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The Telephone Museum. He's currently raising funds through PayPal Giving Fund. He has the blessing of Somerville City Hall to buy the house and create the museum if he can raise the funds. Others are interested in the house, but they want to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast place.

Vincent Valentine needs your help to create a museum at the Charles Williams Jr. House.

The house needs some work, but not as much as would be needed to make it into a bed-and-breakfast as it does to turn it into a museum. That's because nobody will sleeping or living in it. The house needs an upgraded electrical system, but what old house doesn't? Valentine wants to make the museum interactive so that visitors can pick up an old telephone and hear its history. That requires computers, networks, and the wires to power them.

At just over 5000 ft.², the house is large enough to hold a museum in the main part with a workshop to the side. See the photo that I took below. You can see more photos from this Boston Herald article and in the listing.


The first home to have a telephone, 1 Arlington St., Somerville, Mass.

Help Vincent Valentine save a piece of engineering history by donating to The Telephone Museum. Donate by December 31 and get that last-minute 2014 tax deduction.

For more on Charles Williams Jr., see:
Charles Williams Jr. Part 1 and Part 2 at Telegraph History.

Also see

Charles Williams, Jr., Boston, Mass. An early significant telegraph instrument maker, 1850 - 1870s from The Telegraph Office.
Alexander Graham Bell makes 1st sound transmission, June 2, 1875
1st transcontinental phone call made, January 25, 1915

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