Hood County Texas Genealogical Society

 

THE GRANBURY LIGHT PLANT

Written by Jennifer Nichols - February 20, 1994

Researched by Jennifer Nichols & Robert M. Knebel, Granbury

 

The electric utility industry had its birth in 1882 when Thomas A. Edison established the first central station in New York City.(1) By 1896, several cities and towns in Texas had operating electric light plants.(2) The town of Granbury, Texas, watched this development with great interest; however, the City Council was not prepared to enter into municipal ownership of this relatively new industry. Several attempts by the newspaper editor were made to entice private enterprise into putting forth the capital. One such attempt read, "No other town the size of Granbury with which we are acquainted is without electric lights, and most of them have water works. Granbury can have these things by a pull together."(3)

At the turn of the century, progress was measured in terms of whether or not a city could boast an ice factory, water works, electric lights, or telephone service.(4) Although some Texas towns had municipal utilities, there were three times as many privately owned enterprises.(5) There was an opportunity for Granbury to have an electric plant in 1899. For reasons unknown, the request for an electric plant franchise was deferred by the City Council.(6)

In 1903, the City granted its first electric light plant franchise to The Granbury Milling Co.(7) It specified the right to build and maintain an electric light plant for the purpose of furnishing lights and power to the inhabitants of the City.(8) It is unclear how many subscribers there were or the extent to which the townspeople used electricity, but it is certain that the town square did not have street lighting until much later. During this same year, a roller mill and an oil mill were also being constructed.(9) Water works for fire protection and an ice factory were still high on the list of the towns peoples' desires, but had not yet been proposed.(10)

The following year, M.B. Day and C.J. Howell purchased a block of land adjacent to the railroad tracks and established the Frisco Ice and Gin Co. On this site, an ice factory, cold storage plant, cotton gin, and bottling works were built.(11) By 1905, the City was ready to enter into an arrangement to provide fire protection as well as electricity to its citizens. The Frisco Ice & Gin Co. proposed installing a system of water works for the City. The City's plan was to tax the general public to pay for this fire protection which would benefit the business part of the town. There was strong opposition resulting in a month of public discussion.(12) The notion of progress and promise of lower insurance rates prevailed, and the franchise to the Frisco Ice and Light Co. was granted. For a period of 25 years, they would be allowed to construct and operate a system of water works in the City of Granbury.(13)

The system to be installed called for laying a "six inch main around the public square, furnish eight fire plugs, and keep up a constant pressure day and night that would throw a stream of water over the tallest building in the town for which the town agrees to pay the company $500 per year. The company is also to furnish water for a public drinking fountain for people and stock."(14) Due to much public debate and problems regarding new regulations tied to fire insurance ratings, the water works plant was not operational until sometime after September 1906. The first recorded monthly payment of $50 from the City of Granbury to the Frisco Ice & Light Plant for protection appeared on November 14, 1907.(15)

It should be noted that sometime between March 1904 and March 1905 the Frisco Ice and Gin Co. changed its name to the Frisco Ice and Light Co. It appears that negotiations were already in progress for them to purchase the electric franchise. On September 27, 1905, The Granbury Milling Co. sold what was known as the light plant to the Frisco Ice and Light Co. for the sum of $4,500.00 cash.(16) This paved the way for the Frisco Ice and Light Company to enter into the electric light business as well as water works.

In 1909, the subject of electric lights was raised again. A Mr. Pitman spoke before the City Council "in the interest of lighting up the city and also to putting in more fire plugs."(17) That year, the City agreed to install seven or eight electric lights in different parts of the city. The Frisco Ice and Light Co. was to construct the light line and the City would pay the cost.(18)

Apparently the partnership between the Frisco Ice and Light Co. and the City of Granbury was not always a peaceful one. In December of 1910, the City Council took over the running of the plant and staffed it with two City employees for the remainder of the month due to the failure of the Light Plant to comply with their contract. The mayor was instructed to have the plant examined to determine its value for possible purchase by the City. The Mayor's report concluded that it was not advisable to purchase the plant, and in January, operation of the plant was returned to the Frisco Ice and Light Co.(19)

By 1912, the Frisco Ice and Light Co. had changed its name to the Granbury Ice & Power Co. An agreement was reached whereby the manager would furnish lights all night and would maintain sufficient pressure to supply the City with water at all times.(20) The City Council did not think that the water service was acceptable and held an election for $20,000 in water works bonds. It was soundly defeated by a vote of 33 to 86 Against.(21) By 1921, the newspapers were echoing this call for better service:

Fire Protection We Must Have. The fires of Wednesday have put citizens to thinking seriously and talking earnestly about securing adequate fire protection. All whom we have heard express themselves are in favor of a gravity pressure system publicly owned. There is talk of a petition for a bond election to pay for such a plant, and it cannot be had in any other way. Granbury has paid out enough in the past ten years for water and lights to have owned a plant free of debt. Let us do something more than talk; let us act.(22)

On February 23, 1923, a Notice of Election was posted in the newspaper. Two propositions were put before the public: one for $47,000 in bonds to build a new water system and the second for $28,000 in bonds for an electric power plant.(23) Two months of debate ensued in the newspapers during which the pros and cons of municipal ownership were discussed. Detailed explanations of the plans for the combined plant were provided. On April 18, the bond election passed:(24)

Water Works

For: 134

Against: 111

Electric Plant

For: 134

Against: 109

The eagerness of the townspeople to construct and own their own plant coincided with the popularity of municipal electric plants during this time. Since 1902, the number of municipal enterprises increased from 815 to a peak of 2,581 in 1922. What the townspeople could not predict was that during the next five years, this number would decrease by more than one-fifth. By 1927, municipal electric companies in the United States would supply less than 5% of the customers in the industry.(25)

The need for more electric generating capacity had been increasing rapidly. Between 1913 and 1928 the total electrical energy generated by the utilities of the country increased six fold; the energy used for lighting increased six times, and that used for power increased eight times.(26) Following the development of the electric incandescent lamp and the widespread establishment of central electric stations in the United States, small motors were perfected and the use of electric household labor-saving appliances began.(27)

In May, 1923, the City entered into an option contract with Mr. Grundy for the purchase of the Granbury Water, Ice, Light and Power Co. plant.(28) The newspaper reported that they planned to use the well and some of the other equipment of the old plant, including many of the poles.(29) On July 13, the City purchased the Granbury Water, Ice, Light and Power Co. for a cash consideration of $13,000. This purchase consisted of the real estate upon which the plant was located together with all property used in supplying water and electricity to the inhabitants of the town.(30) The new plant was to be built adjacent to the old one.

The Municipal Engineering Company was granted the contract to build the new water works system and electric light plant.(31) The plant was to consist of two generating units, one 50 h.p. engine to accommodate the day load and one 100 h.p. engine to take care of the peak load. The generating machinery for both plants was to be housed in a fire proof natural stone building, with corrugated iron roof supported by steel trusses. All sashes and doors were to be made of steel so that it would be "impossible for the plant to be destroyed by a fire, a disaster which so often befalls small town electric light plants."(32)

The newspaper posted the following subscription and lowered rate information on July 20:

No. of subscribers:

Lights - 264

Water - 235

 

Electric rates:

min. charge of $2.00 per month

 

Meters (per KW):

first 30 KW

next 20 KW

next 40 KW

over 40KW

20

15

12

10

Water rates:

min. sum of all patrons

patrons having stock (per head)

with baths & toilets

through meters per thousand

$1.50

.35

.35

1.00

Fire insurance rates decreased as an added benefit of having reliable water service.(34) The plant operated at such a profit that it was the main source of funds for street maintenance and had revenues of over $49,000 during the first four years of operation.(35)

In 1927, four years after the water and light plant was constructed, the newspaper tried to liven up an otherwise lackluster election by proposing that the City "sell the water and light plant to some utility company, as other towns have recently been doing." It was thought that the City would be rid of the tax burden. The surplus, after the bonds were paid, could be used to pay old debts or make street improvements. Moreover, the property would be placed on the tax roll to help the schools and improve the streets.(36)

A lengthy editorial by Earl Cogdell appeared in the March 25 newspaper reminding patrons of what their water and electric service was prior to this "new" plant:

Now, most of the citizens here know why this municipal plant was built. But for the benefit of the new-comers, I want to explain some of the reasons, and I think I am partly capable of doing this as I was a member of the City Council at the time the project was incubated, and I wish every tax payer of this city could have been a member of the council at that time, as that would have been the means of your having the financial condition of this city of thoroughly injected into your minds that you would now be able to realize, so to speak, what this plant has been to our town. At the time the building (of) this plant was conceived, we were paying the former owners of the electric light and water works the sum of one hundred and eighteen dollars per month for street lights and fire protection. Some times during a fire we would have water, but most of the time we would not, and if as much as 40 lbs. of pressure was applied to the mains they would leak like a sieve or perhaps blow out entirely. During the hot sumer months you would be compelled to leave your hydrants open all night with a wash tub under them so that you could accumulate during the night enough water with which to cook dinner and wash your dishes the next day, and it is a fact that those of us who did not have a windmill, were compelled to take our regular Saturday night bath in the Brazas [sic] river, or else sit up until about 4 A.M. awaiting for the bath tub to accumulate enough water in which to wet our bath towels and take what you would term a half dry and a half wet bath. Now a word concerning the lights, which we had at that time; most of the nights they would be on until 12 o'clock, that is they would be on and off, mostly off, especially if the wind was blowing or there happened to be static in the air, or if the negro they had looking after the plant didn't happen to go fishing or to take a nap. Now, you new comers don't realize this, but it is an actual fact that all this figured materially in the kind of service we formerly received from the electric light and water works plant; not only was the service bad, but we were paying 17 per k.w. for current, which was excessive, and due to the building of the municipal plant this rate as you all know, has been reduced one-fourth. Another thing that incited the former City Council to build this plant was an increase in our fire insurance rates, we had at that time a key rate of 81 per hundred dollars, which was to have shortly increased to 91, and by reason of this plant having been built the rate has been reduced to 61, or a saving of 30 per hundred dollars, and this figures a saving to us on our insurance premiums of something over eighteen hundred dollars per annum.(37)

In October, of that same year, the Texas-Louisiana Power Co. submitted a written proposal to the City Council to purchase the Granbury Municipal Water and Light Plant for $90,000.(38) The matter was tabled by the City Council because arrangements had to be made for taking up the bonds. In 1929, the Texas-Louisiana Power Co. again offered to purchase the plant, this time for $100,000.(39) The City Council put the proposition to sell the Water and Light Plant before the public. The largest vote ever cast at a municipal election in Granbury turned out to defeat the sale of the plant with a vote of 115 to 144 Against.(40)

During the first seven years of operation, subscribers to the plant's electric and water services grew to 300. Increased demand caused a third Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine to be installed in 1930. The new engine came in on a railroad flat car. Scaffolding and rollers had to be fabricated from timbers to move the engine onto blocks of ice which, as they melted, let the engine down to the cement slab and into permanent position.(41)

The 1930's proved to be as difficult for the City as it was for the rest of the nation. In 1933, sewer and water improvements were constructed under the National Recovery Act (NRA). The work was completed by the Works Progress Administratoin (WPA). In 1937, the City was in default on interest and principal payments on $59,000 of Water Works and Electric Light bonds issued in 1923. It issued 4% Refunding Bonds instead on increasing taxes.(42) In 1939, the two cylinder "hot plug" engine was replaced with a newer, more efficient model, and in 1940, the three cylinder "hot plug" engine was replaced as well.(43)

In 1940, the City Council voted to sell electricity to the Hood County Electric Co-op. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was to build their lines to the City's plant.(44) Under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, the City made an application for a loan of $35,000 with which to finance construction of a RE generating plant. Subsequent City Council minutes made no further mention of this loan request and repairs to the plant continued.(45)

During World War II, as required by the government, the windows of the Light Plant were painted a dark blue color to protect it and all of the nation's industries from identification and bombing by the Japanese. Drills were periodically conducted at night. The plant operator pulled a switch which disconnected the whole town. The dark paint on the windows allowed the workers to have light inside but not be detected from the air.(46) Also during the war, the following explanation appeared in the newspaper:

If Your Street Light is out, please remember that the management of your Municipal Utilities is putting forth every effort to have it burning at the earliest possible moment. Your city and its utilities are under Government regulations and restrictions. Even electric light bulbs are under priorities. Besides this, like all other materials, they are hard to locate. All that the management can do is to place an order and await its turn. In a recent storm many street lights were burned out. An order has been in for quite a long while. We are waiting patiently for them, and ask you to be patient, too. Under Government regulations we are not supposed to give a maximum but only a minimum service. Bear in mind that no stone is being left unturned to keep you supplied with electricity and water, and to keep your street lights burning. If it is dark on your corner tonight, remember that it is not as dark as it is in a foxhole on a Pacific Island. Granbury Municipal Utilities.(47)

By 1949, the plant was considered to be worn out and unable to meet the growing demands of the City of Granbury. The City began buying electricity from the Brazos Electric Cooperative and in 1954, ceased generating altogether.(48) At that time, it would have cost more money to upgrade the plant to produce more electricity than it would cost to buy it from another source. The plant was maintained in "stand-by" mode. In the 1960's, Brazos Electric was having troubles with their system and the Light Plant engines had to be started up to provide power for a 24 hour period.(49)

After the closure of the plant, the Light Plant was used as a storage facility for the City. Through the efforts of the late Hugh Raupe, a former Mayor of Granbury, and the late Weldon Newman, Light Plant engineer from 1939-1948, the building had been kept in good repair and the engines had remained intact. At the request of members of the Hood County Historical Commission, the city agreed to vacate the property and allow restoration work to begin. Mayor Raupe and Mr. Newman were instrumental in restoring the first engine to working order and restoring the structure to its original condition. Since 1991, volunteers have been demonstrating the working engines for the public during holidays and special events throughout the year. The goal of the Light Plant Restoration Committee is to open up the Granbury Light Plant as a museum for self-guided tours and establish an early electrical museum nearby.


END NOTES

1. "Electricity," Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1946, Vol. 8, p. 199.

2. Texas & Pacific Railway and the International & Great Northern Railroad, The Texarkana Gateway to Texas and the Southwest, (St. Louis, Missouri: The Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co., 1896).

3. The Granbury News, microfilm of newspaper on file at Hood County Library, Texas, Jan 16, 1902.

4. Texas & Pacific Railway and the International & Great Northern Railroad, op. cit.

5. "Electricity Supply," Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1945, Vol. 8, pp. 279-280.

6. The Granbury News, op. cit., May 18, 1899.

7. Ibid., Jul 9, 1903.

8. Franchise from The City of Granbury to The Granbury Milling Company, Estes & Estes Abstract, Oct 14, 1903.

9. The Granbury News, op. cit., Jul 9, 1903.

10. Ibid., Jun 19, 1902 and Jan 28, 1904.

11. Sanborn Map of Granbury 1905, Austin Historical Archives.

12. The Granbury News, op. cit., Feb 16, 1905.

13. Franchise from The City of Granbury to The Frisco Ice and Light Co., Estes & Estes Abstract, Mar 4, 1905.

14. The Granbury News, op. cit., Mar 9, 1905.

15. Ibid., Sep 6, 1906 and Nov 14, 1907.

16. Bill of Sale from The Granbury Milling Company to Frisco Ice and Light Co., Estes & Estes Abstract, Sep 27, 1905.

17. Ganbury City Council Meeting Minutes Book #10, for the period 6 Oct 1908 to 11 Jul 1923, Hood County Genealogical Archives, Granbury Depot, Granbury, Texas, May 23, 1923.

18. The Granbury News, op. cit., Oct 29, 1909.

19. Ibid., Dec 16, 1910 and Dec 26, 1910.

20. Ibid., Feb 28, 1912.

21. Ibid., Sep 5, 1914.

22. Ibid., Aug 28, 1921.

23. Ibid., Feb 23, 1923.

24. Ibid., Apr 18, 1923

25. "Electricity Supply," Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., pp. 279-280.

26. Ibid., p. 280.

27. Ibid., p. 281.

28. Granbury City Council Meeting Minutes Book #10, op. cit., May 23, 1923.

29. The Granbury News, op. cit., Jun 1, 1923.

30. Deed from the Granbury Water, Ice, Light and Power Company to The City of Granbury, Hood County Deed Records, Jul 13, 1923.

31. Granbury City Council Meeting Minutes Book #10, op. cit., Jul 11, 1923.

32. The Granbury News, op. cit., Mar 2, 1923.

33. Granbury City Council Meeting Minutes Book #11, for the period 20 Jul 1923 to 11 Apr 1940, Hood County Genealogical Archives, Granbury Depot, Granbury, Texas, Jul 20, 1923.

34. The Granbury News, op. cit., Mar 25, 1927.

35. Ibid., Dec 2, 1927.

36. The Granbury News, op. cit., Mar 4, 1927.

37. Ibid., Mar 25, 1927.

38. Granbury City Council Meeting Minutes Book #11, op. cit., Oct 27, 1927.

39. Ibid., Aug 15, 1929.

40. The Granbury News, op. cit., Sep 27, 1929.

41. Hugh Raupe, former Mayor of Granbury, interview by R.M. Knebel, Feb 18, 1993. Tape recording.

42. Granbury City Council Meeting Minutes Book #11, op. cit., op. cit., Dec 7, 1937.

43. Weldon Newman, former Light Plant employee 1939-1948, interview by Rick Nichols and Mary Saltarelli, 28 Sep 1991. Tape recording/transcript.

44. Granbury City Council Meeting Minutes Book #12, for the period 13 Jun 1940 to 14 Jul 1947, Hood County Genealogical Archives, Granbury Depot, Granbury, Texas, Jul 30, 1940.

45. Ibid., Aug 30, 1940.

46. Weldon Newman, op. cit.

47. The Hood County Tablet, microfilm of newspaper on file at Hood County Library, Granbury, Texas, May 27, 1943.

48. The Granbury News, op. cit., 1966.

49. Weldon Newman, op. cit.


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