electric street lights


North East gets electric street lights

   This light, now hanging in our museum, is one of the first street lights in North East. It is called a carbon arc lamp. This is how it worked. There are two carbon electrodes mounted vertically in the center of the globe. When the light is first turned on, the electrodes are touching which allows a low voltage to start an arc. The carbon rods are then slowly drawn apart and the current increases, maintaining the arc.
    The tips of the rods heat to incandescence, creating light. The tips of the rods slowly burn away and need to be adjusted to maintain the arc. This is all done automatically by an ingenious electro-mechanical system within the light fixture. Early lights such as this were said to burn 100 hours before the electrodes needed to be replaced.
    The town fathers thought long and hard before they decided on installing electric lights. At the time there were kerosene lamps lighting our streets at night. Some places had lights that burned natural gas and North East had plenty of that. At this time there was no electric company to furnish electricity. Somebody had seen the electric lights in Cleveland and Borough Council was convinced this was just the thing North East needed.
    It was on October 10, 1889, that Borough Council awarded a 10 year contract to Eureka Temper Copper Works to supply electricity for 20 arc-lamps at $40 per lamp per year to be lit from dark until midnight. Western Electric Company won the bidding to furnish the lamps and equipment for $5023.


    The making and selling of electricity and electric lights was a new idea in these times, and just how much it would cost and how much should be charged in order to not lose money was not yet known with a certainty, not to mention how unreliable the equipment was and what it would cost to keep it going.. When Eureka’s contract ended at the ten year mark, they decided they could not make as much as they spent and were not interested in continuing the business. In 1899 the Borough had to start looking for someone to take over. Bids were received and rejected and re-advertised and re-bid with a contract made that was impossible to carry out, which had to be re-bid. Finally in February of 1900 a contract was awarded to C.M. Kendall, a retired farmer, who built a gas engine plant with a dynamo at his residence at 60 West Main Street. Kendall found that his gas supply was less than what had been thought and was never able to run longer than an hour at a time.
     In July Kendall admitted defeat and asked Borough Council to let him out of his contract, which they did, and they built their own plant and put the Acme Electric Light & Power Company in charge. The bill for March of 1901 was $116.17 which was almost three times what the Borough was used to paying. So they contracted Mr. Charles K Hood, who was running the plant for Acme, to take care of the lights and run the plant for $30 per month. Mr. Hood was also permitted to furnish power to such manufacturing plants as he could contract with and pay the Borough five percent of receipts from those customers.
     Through all these years the service was not what the people had expected, and in October of 1901, Burgess Inglis wrote to Borough Council “The electric light plant has cost the people more money for the past year than any other year in its history, but not withstanding this, the service has been worse during that time than any other year since the plant was installed.”
     In December of 1902 Council contracted with Eames & Watts to run the system. North East kept possession of the lights and lines, while Eames & Watts agreed to build their own plant and furnish electricity for ten years a cost of $45 per light per year. Soon after this the service was increased to provide all night lighting. In December of 1905 Council decided it was time to replace all the old lights with new improved versions, but they were still arc lamps. In 1908 they decided to try six new “tungsten” series lamps and soon the arc lamps were a thing of the past.

Pictures at Left:
•Electric Streetlight now at North East Historical Society

• You can see the light works in in the bottom left corner of this 1900 map of Eureka

• North East’s Electric power plant in 1906 was on the south side of the railroad   tracks between Smedley and Washington Streets




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