Saturday, May 14, 2016

Old wiring at Pine Knoll

Recently my cousin C. Stuart Brewster and I reminisced about Pine Knoll (the old family homestead at 98 Preston Street, Danvers) and the condition of its electrical wiring, which has been quite visible in the rooms, running across or along the edges of ceilings. We both recall older family members there bragging about the early adoption of electricity. The family was proud that Pine Knoll was one of the first homes in Danvers to be electrified. Stuart had heard that it was the very FIRST such home.

Is that true? Was Pine Knoll one of the first homes to have electric lights? When and how did electricity come to private homes in Danvers?

Neither of us knew that history. I sent an inquiry to Mr. Richard Trask at the Danvers Archival Center, and he looked into the records of the Danvers Electric Light Department and reported these facts: 
·       The light plant on Burroughs Street opened and 72 arc* street lights began functioning in Danvers on January 2, 1889.

·       Danvers was the first municipality in Massachusetts to generate and distribute its own electricity.

·       In 1891 the state legislature approved Danvers’ request to make and sell electricity to businesses and residences (Chapter 378 of the Acts of 1891).

·       According to a brochure by the Department, the house at 24 Berry Street “was the first private residence to receive electric service.”  That house was built in 1896.

·       August 1897 “A. Nichols” was charged $1.33 for “Domestic Incand.” electricity.

Pine Knoll may well have been the first private house in that section of Danvers (then called Asylum Station, later called Hathorne) to be wired for electric lights. In any case, it was an early installation, soon after December 1896 when such service began in Danvers.

*Arc light systems were high voltage direct-current (D.C.) systems, and could not supply household electricity.

If you are curious about the politics and arguments involved in obtaining state approval for Danvers electric light service, here's a document I found on the internet: 33 pages of testimony by Daniel Crowley, a lawyer representing Danvers:
       Argument ... in favor of municipal lighting, before the Committee on manufactures of the Massachusetts legislature, March 24 and 25, 1891.
It is long-winded and full of exaggerations, but does give you a flavor of those times.