Enduring Historical Buildings of Molalla
By Gail J. McCormick for The Molalla Pioneer
The Molalla Telephone Company Building is located at 118 South Molalla Avenue in Molalla, Oregon. The architecture is 20th Century Commercial Style. It is a two-story brick structure, built from materials furnished by the local Molalla Brick & Tile Company. Contractors Birkemier & Saramel built the structure in 1928. The building had two sound-proof booths for the switchboard operators and large, plate-glass windows. It had a basement and living quarters in the back and upstairs. Local author, Lois Helvey Ray, remembers that in the 1950s to 1960s there was an alcove, in the outside front, that held a pay phone.
The First Telephone
The very first telephone was installed in the Levi Robbin's Store in 1898. Levi's son, Wayne, took a special interest in the telephone. He was instrumental in establishing telephone service in the Molalla area. Due to Wayne's efforts, Pacific Telephone Company agreed to build a long-distance line from Oregon City to Molalla in 1899. The telephone poles had to be furnished by the customers. They were ten inches square, cut from cedar logs. The Pacific Telephone Company paid the residents $1 for each pole and for their labor, in script, which could be used to pay for long-distance calls. After the long-distance line was completed, phones could be rented for $6.00 per year. In 1901, Wayne installed a three-jack switchboard in his office, so he could connect customers to long- distance when they called in. There were so many calls that it was soon decided to form a mutual company and install a magneto switchboard.
First Telephone Operator
In January, 1907, it was reported by an Oregon City newspaper that Mrs. Annie Clifford had been secured as central operator for the Molalla Mutual Telephone Association by the board of directors. The position required a civil service exam. In 1907, she was paid $454 for the year. She had been running the Molalla Post Office since 1892. She continued operating the post office, along with the telephone switchboard. She held the position of first telephone operator for six years.
First Telephone Office
In 1912, the telephone company incorporated with 335 stockholders. The first stand-alone telephone office was actually built from the original Molalla school building, built in 1875. The 21 feet by 31 feet building had been moved to downtown from east Molalla by Peter and Tilda Boyles. There it served as a residence for some years. In January, 1913, it was sold to the Molalla Telephone Company to use as a residence and phone office for the new managers, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hibbard. Mr. and Mrs. Hibbard operated the telephone office for twenty years before retiring to a small farm west of Molalla.
In March of 1913, the Molalla Pioneer announced that Molalla had "one of the best rural telephone systems in the state". There were 240 members of the incorporated company. The cost of the phone service had risen from $4 per year to $6 per year. In December, 1914, the annual meeting was held. To become a member of the company, you had to "sign the by-laws, pay $7.50 to the treasurer and construct and maintain your apportionment of the telephone line in your particular division". There was also a complaint that "cross talk renders the line useless much of the time. Since we have in the electric juice, it is much worse because we have the roar of the power lines to contend with." At the December, 1922, meeting they decided that the Molalla Telephone Company would own and maintain all the lines "now constructed and hereafter to be constructed from the central office to their ends". The expense was to be paid by all members of the company.
To keep up with the times, the telephone company's name has been changed to the Molalla Communications Company. In 1988, they moved to the office they are in today at 211 Robbins Street. In 1944, there were about 350 members; today there are over 5,000.
About the Author
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.