The Fryburg Telegraph office is located in the Randolph Post Office building. Reliable telegraph first came into use in the late 1840’s. Western Union began business in 1851 and telegraph’s first wide use was in the dispatching of trains. The east and west coasts of America were linked by telegraph in 1861, and the use of this device was instrumental in the winning of the War Between the States (it proved especially useful to Gen’l Sherman during his March to the Sea.). By 1865 the United States was covered by 83,000 miles of telegraph wires.
In the early days of this new invention, a town’s telegraph office was located in a variety of buildings of whichever proved to have the most convenient location. Often in towns with a railroad station the telegraph was most easily placed in the station because the telegraph lines so often followed the tracks. In other town’s general stores or newspaper offices served, and in quite a few towns the telegraph first was placed in the local Post Office.
In the museum community of Fryburg (named for my father Walter Fry and mother, Frieda, who was a Burgner.) we have placed the telegraph office in the Post Office. We chose this building because as I was restoring the building to its original condition and use I found high on the front wall two porcelain insulating tubes that carried electrical lines through the wall to the exterior of the building. The tubes are/were of a size that would carry telegraph lines, but appear to be somewhat small for electric lines. Since Randolph was centered at the fairly important crossroads of Rte’s 224 and 43, and there was no train station, the telegraph may have been in this building.
The telegraph office includes a large display of telegraph keys, a sounder box, a number of glass batteries that were used to power the telegraph and a number of glass telephone/telegraph pole insulators. There is also a working telegragh key with morse code sheet so visitors can practice their “tapping” skills.
An interesting note is that the glass cased batteries have numbered scales on their sides. The amount of fluid you put in each battery was determined by how far or close the next telegraph office was. With more acid in each battery, the farther you could “code”.