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Electricity came to Springfield at night

POSTED: September 19, 2013 7:38 p.m.

The Springfield Herald reported in its March 8, 1912 edition that the county seat of Effingham would be getting electricity in the near future with the installation of an electric plant by A.B. Cummings.

The town fathers immediately contracted for 21 street lights, as did several home owners who did not already have a private diesel generator.

The plant was completed Aug. 8, 1913. It would crank up around 5:30 in the evening and shut down at 11:30 at night, supplying the residents and city with electricity each evening. It experienced interruptions and failures from time to time.

Until that time the town had relied upon oil and kerosene lamps for light, the same as those in rural areas. Wood or coal heaters supplied the heat, and wood and gas stoves were used for cooking. Water was drawn by windmills or old force pumps.

The arrival of electricity on the scene did not come without some difficulty. Early on, the citizens would forget to turn of the light switches at night, thus creating a strain on the plant when it cranked up the next afternoon.

Charlton Tebeau of Springfield remembered the first Christmas after the electricity came to Springfield. One Christmas morning the electricity failed, ruining many Christmas dinners which never finished cooking. The poorly-timed failure caused many to lose faith in the new-fangled idea and switch back to cooking on a gas stove.

Two young men practicing for a play became interested in the electricity and stuck a knife in the open drop cord socket, shutting the power off everywhere. No one thought much as it was very late until the next evening when the generator would not power up. They checked the houses. Finally, two days later they checked the school, where the boys had innocently left without telling anyone, finding trouble at the school after checking all houses the day before. The boys preferred to stay anonymous about the "accident."

On Oct. 11, 1935, The Herald reported that Savannah Electric and Power Company would extend its lines north to Rincon. It was extended to Springfield about two years later. The Savannah firm purchased the Guyton operation of Coastal Public Service Company June 7, 1937, from Bob Eastland.

The Guyton operation consisted of four 100 kw/2.3KV generators which Coastal had provided electricity with since 1920. The three plant employees at the time chose to stay with SEPCO until their eventual retirement.

J.C. Gilliam was the general superintendent of the operation. Jack Cone served as plant operator and Henry Zeigler was his helper. The Guyton plant was closed later when power lines were built connecting the area with the Savannah plant. At that time, Jack Cone moved to the Savannah plant to work as a machinist. Gilliam and Zeigler remained in Effingham. Gilliam retired in 1968 with 48 years of service supplying electricity to people in this area.

Upon Gilliam’s retirement, J.W. O’Berry became district superintendent of the plant. At that time, the electric company had two journeymen and a helper to service supplying electricity to the area, which was mostly rural.

The office moved into a new office in Springfield in June of 1968 (this building is now a lawyers office just north of Effingham Service Center on Laurel Street). In December 1981 the present building, adjacent then to the Effingham County High School, on Highway 119 was completed.

In 1984 the Springfield district employed 30 workers with diversified talents and responsibilities. There were five tree crews and one bush hog contracted with Farren’s Tree Surgeons to keep the miles of power lines clear that reach to Rincon, Springfield, Marlow, Pineora, Egypt, Meldrim and Clyo in Effingham County. Local businessman Walt Gnann was elected company director, the first Effingham county resident elected to the board.

In November 1982, the Guyton substation was converted from the 2.4 KV to 7.6 KV. A 115 KV line to the new Goshen substation was completed to service the eastern part of Effingham County where there had been a large increase in customers in the previous few years.

A second electric company in the north end of the county sprang up in 1937, but did not actually service Effingham until 1949. Following the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) by executive order of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, a group of men in Burke County began to organize the New Deal Power Association. The association was incorporated in 1936 and in 1937 changed its name to Planters Electric Membership Corporation.

Planters EMC started in July 1937 with 91 members and only a few miles of line, with the first lines in Effingham in 1949. Planters continues to serve customers in Burke, Jenkins, Screven, Effingham, Richmond, Bulloch and Emanuel counties. Some in the north end of Effingham remained customers when this article was published originally in 1984.

Today we take for granted our electrical service to heat and cool our homes, wash and dry our clothes, light our homes, cook food and provide us with electricity for electronic gadgets and entertainment. Imagine what it was like in 1913, to see the first electric light and feel the breeze of an electric fan. Service then was intermittent at best in the early days, subject to frequent outages. We are blessed today in this county to have modern electrical service and are very lost when our service becomes interrupted infrequently by weather and/or other factors.

This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: hesexleyherald@aol.com.

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