Electricity in Monroe County Then and Now

The 1880’s saw the advent of human-generated electricity in Monroe County. In November, 1881, the Republican Progress announced that an electric light would be placed on the court house steeple, the power being furnished by a steam engine at Seward’s foundry. But “The electric light is not quite a success. It is unsteady – flares up, sinks down, and makes an uneven light. Time will develop needed improvements, however.”

It was not until five years later that improvements were realized. By May, 1886, the Jenney Electric Light Company of Indianapolis organized a stock company for bringing lights to streets and businesses, and in June the City Council awarded them a three-year contract. The city agreed to pay for nine lights at a cost of $600/year. They would be operated until midnight (except when there was “good moonlight”). Three lights were placed on the court house tower, three on the school house, and one each at the corners of 7th and Washington Streets, Kirkwood and Lincoln, and one near the United Presbyterian Church. Demand for other lights led to the light company to contract for a “dynamo” for 40 lights, which was located in Ryor’s factory.

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1886 Atlas Corliss Steam Engine

The lights were first turned on during the evening before the 4th of July, 1886 celebration, with people coming in from all around the county to witness the event. More lights were installed during that fall. In the summer of 1887, a separate building, near the railroad depot, was constructed to house the dynamo and “Atlas engine” (a steam engine manufactured in Indianapolis). By January of 1889, the company was running 42 lights, of which 16 were used by the city. Each light cost $60/year. In 1890, plans were announced to furnish 720 lights, with two larger dynamos required.

Turn the page to today, September 17, 2018. At 2 p.m., 120 solar panels atop the History Center’s roof were connected to the electrical grid, joining over 600 other homes, businesses, government, and public buildings in Monroe County sporting these new means of producing electrical power.

The estimate by the panel installers, MPI Solar of Bloomington, shows that these panels will generate 58,000 kilowatt hours annually, saving about $5,400 on our electrical bill during the first year. Estimated total savings over 30 years will be about $180,000. Annually, this will offset about 22.5% of our electricity cost. Two anonymous donors contributed $110,000 to fund the project.

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History Center Solar Panels,
looking west toward the Courthouse

Blog post by Lee Ehman, a long time advocate of solar power.