Interior of the JKL Telephony Museum (all images via JKL Telephony Museum)

Last week, the United States lost one of its quirkiest historical museums to a wildfire in northern California. The JKL Telephony Museum, also called the American Museum of Telephony, dedicated itself to the singular purpose of safeguarding and preserving the history of the telephone. Its namesake and owner John K La Rue — whose initials appear above the number 5 on most telephone dials — had thousands of artifacts on display, from old-fashioned rotaries and switchboards to antique catalogues and brochures. 

Nothing was left of them after the Butte Fire swept near the town of San Andreas in Calaveras County on September 10. “We were told by firefighters that the museum burned to the ground,” read a blog post on the museum’s website. The destructive blaze has consumed some 72,000 acres, 233 homes, and most tragically three lives. It’s still only 45% contained. 


Interior of the JKL Telephony Museum

But the fire might not mark the end for JKL. A enthusiast’s love for antique telephones, once kindled, can never really be quenched. The museum has already announced its determination to rebuild. “We believe it can once again be the very best resource and repository of antique telephone equipment, advertising, library material, real working telephone switching systems, and all else telephone,”  the museum wrote. It’s now seeking donations of “quality items” to replace those lost.

It will still take years to amass the impression collection of objects the museum so recently held. According to its website, its library holdings were “unequaled by any US museum dedicated to telephony and most likely in the world.”


The museum’s ruins


The museum’s ruins

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...