Electrifying Greenwich

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Unlike many other New England towns, throughout history Greenwich has been reluctant to embrace change over the years.  This could be due to a number of reasons including trying to preserve its rural character, avoiding influence by any one person, saving money on taxes, etc, etc.  On at least one occasion, Greenwich actually lost out on getting electric power installed for free!

To properly frame the story, we must remember that Greenwich grew up as a rural community until the middle of the 1800s.  Farmers milked by candlelight, horse and buggy riders depended on the moon to light the roads, public and private events were scheduled around the full moon.  Since there weren't that many stores with large plate glass windows with candles to cast light, streets were extremely dark.  Eventually, the Borough voted to install about a dozen lights on Greenwich Avenue, which ran on refined kerosene oil.  Young Willie Funston (16- years-old) was the lamplighter responsible for filling the lamps, cleaning the glass and extinguishing them.

Then, in 1874, a local resident, Mr. Ackerman, tried to convince the Borough to let him install gas mains to light the streets, at the expense of his own company.  He had to construct a building on the eventual site of Pickwick Arms.  He asked for no capital, and even rented the land himself for 5 years at a cost of $1,000.  His proposition was soundly turned down by the Borough! 
 
Another resident, Edward H. Johnson, president of the Edison Electric Light Company of New York, constructed a private plant to light his house on North Street on what we now call Electric Hill.  His lit house could be seen all the way to Long Island Sound.  In 1888, Johnson offered to provide street lights to Greenwich at a cost of $1,200 per year.  Once again, his proposal was soundly defeated!

Electric lighting was finally "introduced" by a special Borough meeting on Dec. 10, 1890.  The Greenwich Gas and Electric Light Company - run by non-residents and backed with foreign capital - built a generator building on Steamboat Road.  The electrification project dragged on because there was a general mistrust (i.e. prejudice) against the foreign backers.  A proposal to install street lights on Greenwich Avenue was finally approved, but not until after some unbelievable arguments.  Opponents cited defective wiring and storm damage as safety concerns!

Years later, electric lines were put up to power the trolleys from Stamford and Port Chester.  Eventually, all buildings - including residential homes - were all wired.  It's hard to imagine what life would be like without electricity.

 

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on July 22, 2010 5:07 PM.

Greenwich First: Trans-Atlantic Transmission was the previous entry in this blog.

The Mystery of the "Leatherman" is the next entry in this blog.

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