When did electricity come to your town? Perhaps in 1936, when the US government passed the Rural Electrification Act, which brought up-to-date electricity to many far-flung locations. In 1882, Appleton, Wisconsin saw the first hydroelectrically-powered home, demonstrating the potential of local energy generation. Did you know that Bennington, New Hampshire was a pioneer in electric street lights? Water had always powered the town’s factories, but that changed in the late 1800s.
The water rights to the river bank were formally purchased sometime in the 1870s by the Goodell Company. [The Goodell company was run from Antrim and owned mills in Bennington as well. Goodell was acquired by Chicago Cutlery in 1983.] In the late 1880s, Bennington and neighboring Antrim began a collaboration with Goodell to develop electricity for the towns. A power house was built at the third dam, wooden without and containing the latest of generators inside.
To string the wires, the first poles for electric wires were put up in the center of town, then going down Antrim Road [now called Mill Road] toward Antrim. What an excitement that must have caused! How modern the townspeople must have felt, to know that they were among the first towns in New Hampshire to have electric street lights! Looking at an old photo of the Village Center, we see wooden plank sidewalks, a horse and wagon, and electrical poles. Even the roof of the town Band Stand was used as an attachment for wires. In those days, poles and wires were not something to photo-shop out of your picture — they were an important part of the scene, showing how forward-thinking the town was.
This was not electricity for home consumption. Houses and farms were illuminated by kerosene lamps and lanterns. Many people at the turn of the 20th century feared electricity and would not have wanted it in their homes, preferring the softer glow of the lamp flame. Many of us still use those when the power goes out.
In the 1920s, Goodell’s river rights were sold to the Monadnock Paper Mill and a newer power house was built: the Monadnock Power Station, 1923, followed by the Pierce Power Station. From that point, and up to the 1950s, hydroelectric power provided the majority of the energy needs for the Paper Mill. Electrical power for the town was taken over by Public Service of New Hampshire, now Eversource.