Marion Electric Light and Water Company

Marion, Illinois was first served with electricity only 10 years after Thomas Edison started the first central electrical generating station in New York City, when the Marion Street Light and Street Railway Company was chartered on June 15, 1891 in Marion, Illinois.

The founders of Marion Electric Light and Water Company, a subsidiary, were A. E. Harper, of Chicago, President: H. C. Shaw, Marion, Manager: W.E. Fish, Marion, Superintendent of Construction and of the Mechanical and Electrical Departments.

A.E. Harper was from Chicago and had already spent a lot of time in Southern Illinois procuring coal mine properties for the steel industry. He advised the purchase of thousands of acres of land for the steel companies.

Fabian Nance served as the General Manager for nine years from 1893 to 1901 before he entered the grocery trade by opening a business on North Market Street.

In 1895, when William S. Burkhart of Burkhart Dry Goods was 17 and still in High School, he learned the skills required to run the power plant and did so till graduating school and going on to be involved in the banking business.

The enterprising company in 1904 installed an entirely new plant at Marion, which would have sufficient power to supply all the demands of Marion, Illinois .The new plant consisted of one 150 horse power Hamilton-Corless engine capable of furnishing 110 kilowatts of alternating current equal to 2000 16 candle power lamps. The old engine was of 100-horse power, ideal high speed, of 75 Kilowatts of power, equal to 1500, 16 candle power lamps. They were using three boilers and later added two more to the new plant.

In 1904, they had between fifteen and twenty miles of wire strung and were using 50 arc lamps of 1200 candle power each for street lighting, and 2500 incandescent lamps. The actual power required to furnish light for the city in 1904 was 120 Kilowatts. This amount of power is approximately the power consumption of the average home used in three days in 2013. Their power distribution was from the plant at the corner of North Madison and East Central located near the current city water tower downtown. From the plant, the lines ran up North Market around the square and out West Main Street.

In 1912, the local power grid appears to have been purchased by Central Illinois Public Service Company, CIPS. Other than a corporate change to Ameren/CIPS then Ameren, it remains in their hands as of this writing in 2013. 

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(Data and pictures from 1905 Souvenir Book, WCHS and the Marion Daily Republican Marion History Progress Edition, compiled by Sam Lattuca on 01/28/2013)


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Marion Electric Light and Water Company — 1 Comment

  1. I was a plumber for the family business, Conley Brothers Plumbing and Heating for many years before “going Nuclear”. I remember digging up sections of the old paper and jute wrapped lead cables along S. Market Street that served the electric trams along that route. My grandfather, J. H. Conley, the founder of the family business told of seeing both hogs and cattle driven up S. Market on their way to the trains or local slaughter.

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