The Gold Rush is widely recognized as the magnet that drew millions of settlers to California. In addition to the hundreds of popularized stories of settlers getting rich or bust, a variety of inventions were created in order to better the serve the mines and the miners. One of those inventions was the world’s first telephone line that stretched across about 58 miles of Nevada County. In 1877, the Ridge Telephone Company connected French Corral to French Lake (now called Bowman Lake).
The world’s first telephone line was completed barely a year after Alexander Graham Bell first spoke to Mr. Watson through his new invention – the telephone – on March 10, 1876. The Milton Mining Company operated the phone line from a building that used to stand in French Corral at the site where the historical marker sits today. The phone line’s primary purpose was to serve miners and water companies.
By 1880, telephone companies had created exchanges in most major U.S. cities. However, it was common for callers to sit in a soundproof telephone booth by appointment to make a call. Callers needed to shout to be heard, because the technology to boost a person’s voice over the phone lines had not yet been invented. Between 1894 and 1904, more than 6,000 independent phone companies set up business. The number of phones increased from 285,000 to 3.3 million. Long distance phone lines crossed the nation in the tens of millions of feet.
Today, French Corral is home to less than 100 residents. In its prime, the town was named for the stock pen that belonged to a French settler. Mining towns across the Mother Lode took names created in similar ways – for the lone, single woman in town, for a city leader’s daughter, for a heroine named in a book or the name of a settler’s hometown in the United States or abroad.
The Milton Mining Company and its building are long gone from French Corral today. Visitors to the area can still see the Wells Fargo building built in 1853, the same year the mining company building was built.
French Corral is located on Pleasant Valley Road 4.5 miles west of Highway 49 and 3 miles east of the Bridgeport Covered Bridge. The historical landmark is located on Pleasant Valley Road in the center of town.
Nevada means “snow-covered” in Spanish. During winter months, Nevada County’s eastern border is wholly engulfed in the snows of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In the 1840s and 1850s many emigrants arrived in California via the Overland Emigrant Trail which threaded through the infamous Donner Pass.