Hometown History #66: Turning on the Lights

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Above, an early arc light in New York City, similar to the one that dazzled Franklinites of the 1880s.

When did Franklin first gain access to the wonders of electricity? Let’s let the writer of the town’s 1920s sesquicentennial history explain...

Prior to 1886, the Streets of Franklin were lighted with kerosene lamps, each lamp being placed in a glass case mounted on a wooden post and located at the corners of several of the prominent streets. Each year the Selectmen appointed a lamp lighter who was a familiar figure on the Streets in the morning and at night with his black covered wagon with large red spots on the side and rear. It was his duty in the morning to extinguish, clean, trim and fill the lamps and to replace the many broken chimneys and at night to light the lamps.

In 1886, Mr. M.S. Turner of Boston installed in the basement of the Morse Opera House two small pieces of equipment that were later destined to be known as the beginning of the utility that is serving Franklin and several of the surrounding town with light, heat and power, namely the Union Light & Power company. This equipment consisted of a small Armington & Sims Engine and a Thomas (sic) Houston arc light generator. Charles Darling was placed in charge as the first engineer.

There was great skepticism among the citizens of Franklin that this equipment would work when wires were run and arc lamps of the open type were placed on poles on the corners of Main and Cottage Streets, West Central and Emmons Street, Main and Emmons Street, Main Street and Metcalf Court and at the lower end of Depot Street, but to their amazement, when the generator was started at an appointed time, the arc lamps were brightly illuminated. The lights were closely watched for it was felt that surely the wind would blow them out.

In 1888 a power house was built in the rear of the Trowbridge Piano Factory and larger equipment installed and regular electric service was offered to the citizens of Franklin. This service started at sunset and continued until daylight and service to the homes was given only at night. The first daylight service was given for an afternoon reception held at the home of a prominent citizen of that time. The first motor was used to operate a fan at a batchelor (sic) party in another home.

This plant was shortly bought by E. K. Ray and later it operated under the management of Stone & Webster and in 1912 was taken over by the present management, C. D. Parker & Company. At about this same time there were added to the Company, the towns of Wrentham, Foxboro, Plainville and Bellingham. A transmission line in the form of a ring system was built, thus assuring to a greater degree the continuity of service and this is largely responsible for the adequate power always available for the consumer. The present Company, in its sixteen years of existence, has increased its power to industrial united from387 to 5,019 hors power and increased the number of lighting customers in the same period from 468 to 4,936.

At the present time, the Union Light & Power Company has as well equipped an organization as can be found in any section of New England and it plays no small part in the upbuilding of home and industrial life.

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