Some of you were around back in the 1930s and 1940s and can remember when you first received electricity to your rural homes and farms. But many of us weren't there to witness this magical time that changed our lives forever. This year marks our 75th anniversary of rural electrification here in Lincoln County. It's also Lincoln County's 200th birthday - our Bicentennial. So this year, we're celebrating. We're celebrating our rich Lincoln County heritage and our progress here at Fayetteville Public Utilities.
In our column each month, we try to bring you interesting and helpful information about your local utilities to keep you up-to-date on the progress we're making to improve service for our customers. This month, we would like to tell you a story. This is a story about our history - the history of rural electrification of our county - based on the information we have in our company archives. This was an event that was lauded far and wide as Lincoln County became one of the first rural counties in Tennessee to receive electrification.
You see, prior to 1935 no one living in the county areas here had electricity. Only those who lived in the city of Fayetteville and a few fortunate folks who lived just outside the city had electricity. Records show that even city residents had limited electricity in the 1880s and early 1900s.
If your family was able to afford an in-home generator called a Delco system, you might have enough electricity to operate a few light bulbs at night.
Remember, these are the days before the Tennessee Valley Authority was established. Power was provided to Fayetteville by the Tennessee Electric Power Company, a privately-owned power company. It operated a few years here until the city decided not to renew its franchise with the company. Instead, in 1887, the city created its own power company, the Fayetteville Electric Light and Power Company. It began operation in 1888. The first power generator used by Fayetteville Electric Power and Light Company was a Ft. Wayne Jennie, 32 arc light machine. In 1895, as the demand for more light and energy pressed on, a 60- kilowatt Monicycle incandescent machine was installed. Back then our local power source came from using water current - or hydroelectric generation - from the Harms Dam and Bearden Mill. The operation was small-scale, but it was enough to power the homes of city residents.
The building that housed the Fayetteville Electric Light and Power Company was located on the north side of the town square.
During these years, all of Lincoln County was in the dark when the sun went down each day. Short of using kerosene lamps and candles to finish daily chores like sewing, cooking, washing, and reading, there wasn't much else you were able to do without daylight.
So you'll understand exactly what this era was like, it was the time known as the Great Depression. When the Great Depression swept across all of America in the early 1930s, rural people had known and suffered its effects - the wrenching heartbreak and dislocation - for nearly a decade. The droughts, poor harvests, and low farm prices of the 1920s had made the countryside a land of despair. Just ask anyone who lived during those times.
The Great Depression was "farm-led" and "farm-fed" as the rural people reminded their city cousins who were just then learning of the hard times that others had felt for years without electicity and its many benefits.
Then came March 4, 1933, Inauguration Day for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Americans were anxious and hopeful of this new president and his pledge of a "New Deal."
On May 18, 1933, just 69 days after becoming President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act as one of the many things he would do to improve our nation. In addition to electric power development, TVA entered into the wide fields of flood control, soil conservation, reforestation, elimination from agricultural use of marginal lands, and distribution and diversification of industry. The TVA Act was sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Sen. George W. Norris of Nebraska and supported by many congressmen as a way of improving rural areas across America.
This meant a lot of things for rural America. It meant jobs. It meant better living conditions. It meant possible prosperity.
Rural electrification was a tall order to fill. The TVA Act began the process, but to make electricity available to every farm across the nation, a larger movement was necessary.
It was on May 11, 1935 that Roosevelt signed an executive order which established the Rural Electrification Administration. The REA was entrusted with electrifying over five million farms nationwide. At this time, only 10.9 percent of all farms had what was known as central station service. These farms were the most affluent or they were located near towns. Funding for the construction of rural electricity had been secured by Roosevelt at $100 million as part of a $5 billion public works bill.
A congressional bill followed that made it possible for non-profit organizations to borrow money from the government to build rural electric lines. That bill was called the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.
Loan applications poured in by the hundreds. They came from farm organizations and cooperatives alike. One of those loan requests came from Lincoln County, Tennessee.
With the mighty determination and unwavering grit of Lincoln County farmers and community leaders, Lincoln County became one of the first counties in Tennessee to get rural electricity. Many local community leaders helped bring electricity to our rural community including Lawrence Sloan, D.L. Conger, and others. Shortly thereafter the Lincoln County Electric Membership Corporation was formed as our electric cooperative to serve our rural electric consumers. The first members to serve on the LCEMC board of directors included D.L. Conger, M.F. Childress, R.D. Cowley, N.W. Gill, George Goodrich, J.A. Stewart, and B.E. Holman. The first manager of the rural power system was K.B. Metcalf. Following him were Joe W. Hamilton, Frank McCown, D.M. Sanders, and Charles Robertson.
A Nashville newspaper recorded the big day in Lincoln County's history with a headline that read, "Oil Lamps smashed in Lincoln County as Girl Turns on TVA Electric Lights in Farm Homes." It says "Mary Sloan, age 10, in a new red hat, ushered in the electrical age in rural Lincoln County today with a flip of her little finger." Mary is the daughter of the late Lawrence Sloan of Taft, one of the original tenacious sponsors of rural electrification in Lincoln County. Mary was asked to stand in for her father, Lawrence Sloan, who would have been the one to flip the switch that sent electricity to the homes of local residents. Sloan was killed in an accident just months before the blessed event of electrifying Lincoln County. While he was supervising the unloading of electric poles for the power line construction at Ardmore, the poles tumbled off the platform crushing Sloan underneath. It's ironic that the very work that he dedicated his life to was the work that took his life before he could witness the life-changing benefits of his hard work.
The Nashville paper also states that "Many events preceded and followed the actual throwing of the power switch - a two-mile long parade across the county, speeches by notables in the open field at the substation, and more speeches by notables in the afternoon from the courthouse square in Fayetteville. But perhaps the most exciting events taking place that day were happening in places like Cash Point, Mary's Grove, Kirkland, Blanche and Taft as farm wives eagerly pushed buttons to see the lights flash on in the parlor and kitchen, and brawny-armed farmers stood by with a smile on their faces knowing that their lives, their daily chores and their livelihoods had changed today."
The country landscape of our county changed. Now instead of darkness along county roads in Flintville, McBurg and Skinem, you could see a warm, golden glow from the windows telling the world that there was electric light in these homes.
The cooperative grew steadily over the next years connecting rural homes and farming operations to electric power. If you were around then to witness the many changes that came about, you'd understand how important rural electrification was to Lincoln County residents.
After the electric cooperative was established and electricity spread across the countryside, the city power system also began purchasing power from TVA , abandoning the dam and mill power generation to supply the growing needs of its customers.
Prior to the rural electrification movement, Fayetteville had already made strides in becoming one of the first gravity-flow public water systems in the U.S. It was built in 1898 and was fed from the Wells Hill Spring area about five miles south of town. Fayetteville's gravity-flow system drew the interest of engineers from as far away as New York who came to see it in operation. Portions of that first gravity-flow water line are still in operation today.
The public water system grew to serve more customers and by 1916, Fayetteville's first public wastewater system was installed to offer sanitation services to city residents.
In 1949, another public utility began changing the way we cook our food and heat our homes. The first natural gas system began laying pipe lines across the city and parts of the county to provide another source of reliable energy for local residents.
By the early 1960s, another change was on its way as local utility and government officials began weighing the benefits of merging the city and county electric systems. In 1963, the city power company and the Lincoln County Electric Membership Corporation were merged into one company, called the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Electric System. Soon afterwards the name was shortened to Fayetteville Electric System. Consolidating assets, operations, and services provided power to all of Fayetteville and Lincoln County and created a more financially secure utility.
This newly consolidated electric utility worked well for the utility and its customers. Under its governing bylaws, the electric system could operate as both an electric cooperative and a municipal power system when it came to borrowing funds for new construction and in how it conducts daily business. As part municipal, the utility reports to the City of Fayetteville, but as part cooperative, it continues to participate in programs and services offered by the National Rural Electrification Cooperative Association and Rural Utilities Services. This dual role gives our customers and us the best of both worlds and makes us sort of a unique company in the electric industry.
In 2001 came the introduction of Fayetteville Electric System's telecommunication services - again we became the first such utility in the state to offer these services.
Then we achieved another unique mission in 2002. We successfully consolidated the natural gas, water and sewer, and electric and telecom utilities in Fayetteville to create Fayetteville Public Utilities.
During it all, we continue to serve this community as FPU with the same determination and grit to provide the best services at the lowest costs possible. It's that tradition of doing what it takes to provide service to this community that FPU continues today.
Indeed, Lincoln County was one of the first counties in Tennessee to receive rural electrification. We are one of the few in the state to have ever merged a city and county electric system successfully; we are the first electric system in the state to enter the cable TV and high-speed Internet business; and we remain the only successful multi-service utility consolidation of its kind in this state.
With our strong heritage and our continued efforts to succeed, Fayetteville Public Utilities is a leader in the utility industry. Our company's history of doing what it takes to serve the customer and put them first has been a strong foundation over the years to continue building who we are and what we do for this community.
As we commemorate 75 years of rural electrification in Lincoln County, we promise to continue lighting the path of the future in Fayetteville and Lincoln County.