Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 

Bartlett Electric Cooperative
Historical Marker
Bartlett, Texas

 

 
 

Bartlett Electric Coop Marker Text
Although the town of Bartlett had regular electric service by 1905, farmers in the surrounding rural area were not supplied with electricity until thirty years later. On May 11, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) as part of his New Deal emergency relief program. Designed to bring electricity to the rural areas of America, the REA also became a lending agency to help finance such projects. In 1935, the REA lent $33,000 to the Bartlett Community Light & Power Company. Later known as the Bartlett Electric Cooperative, the BCL&P built a 59-mile power line to serve the rural areas surrounding Bartlett. The first section of the line, which was to serve 110 farm homes, became operative in March 1936. Power was provided by the city's municipal light plant, which had been built two years earlier. As the first REA project in Texas and the first in the nation to be energized under an REA loan, the Bartlett Electric Cooperative played an important role in the modernization of area farms. (1985)

 



   
 

Bartlett Electric Cooperative

Historical narrative by Dennis Engelke

 

As late as 1935, farmers had been denied electricity. In that year, more than 6 million of America's 6.8 million farms did not have electricity. Decades after electric power had become part of urban life (the first central station electric generating system in the United States went into service in 1882), [1] the wood range, the washtub, the "sad iron" and the dim kerosene lamp were still the way of life for almost 90% of the 30 million Americans who lived in the countryside. [2]

 

Julius A. Powitzky writes in The Bartlett Tribune:

 

"A national survey shows that 30 million persons in the United States depend on agriculture for their living and of this amount, 73% must carry water from wells or other sources of supply. Ninety-three per cent have neither bath tubs nor showers; 76% depend on kerosene or gas lamps, and of this, 10% use candles or do entirely with­out light, and 48% have to do their laundry out of doors. I am a farmer. I have lived in Bell County all my life. I have been living within 300 yards of a power line for 15 years. But I have been very unfortunate in obtaining any light and power from this utility during these years at any reasonable price". [3]

 

For two decades and more, delegations of farmers, dressed in Sunday-shirts washed by hand and ironed by "sad iron", had come, hats literally in hand, to the paneled offices of utility-company executives to ask to be allowed to enter the age of electricity. They came in delegations, and they came alone.

 

The answer they received was almost invariably the same: that it was too expensive to build lines to individual farms; that even if the lines were built, farmers would use little electricity because they could not afford to buy electrical appliances; that farmers would not even be able to pay their monthly electricity bills, since, due to low usage, farm rates would have to be higher -- more than two times higher, in fact -- than rates in urban areas.

 

Studies had long disproved the utilities' figures. When the utili­ties ignored these studies, their true attitude became clear: not that rural electric service could not be profitable, but that it would not be as profitable as urban service.

 

The editor of The Bartlett Tribune states:

 

"At the risk of being considered presumptuous, The Tribune would point out to those who determine the policies of the TP&L Co., that if the time, effort and money spent in try­ing to reduce rates in towns where they have no competition, the company would incur less opposition from the public. In other words, less activity of the 'cigar box' - type, and more of a sincere effort to serve the public's interest... As The Tribune pointed out last week, the interests of the people of this community, town and rural, are so closely connected and so nearly identical, that it would be impossible for either group to ever pursue a policy in conflict with the interest of the other. The same cannot be said, however, for a corporation, the majority of whose stockholders live outside of the State". [4]

 

 

Attempts to utilize government to bring electricity to America's farms had begun decades before, fueled by the argument that most of America's power was hydroelectric, generated by the water of its rivers; that this power was, therefore, a natural resource; and that such a resource belongs to the people as a whole, and not to any vested interest. In 1935, the monopolization of the nation's hydroelectric power had begun breaking up -­regulation of private utilities had been strengthened, anti-trust laws reduced limitations on the production and distribution of electricity and great government-financed dams were constructed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted the electricity generated at these dams to be made avail­able not to utility companies, but to farmers, and to be available so inex­pensively that it would "become a standard article of use...for every home within reach of an electric light line". [5] On May 11. 1935, he signed An executive order establishing the Rural Electrification Administration! [6]

 

The REA was begun as part of a general program of unemployment relief, similar to the WPA and CCC. On August 7, 1935, the President issued Regula­tion #4 which established REA as a lending agency; resembling a bank by creating an orderly program of loans on an interest-bearing, self-liquidating basis.

 

During the formative years of the REA, a group of citizens in Bartlett, Texas, a town with rural ties, requested a loan to extend electrical service to farmers in the vicinity. The Bartlett community was among the first to receive REA loans [7] and claims to be the first distributing co-op organized in the United States. [8] In 1935, a loan of $33,000 was made to the Bartlett.

 

Community Light & Power Company. [9] One man recalls, 'Many people in Bartlett thought everyone in the government had lost his mind. It seemed as though that much money should furnish power to everyone in Texas. [10]

 

Horace Keith, Bartlett Municipal Plant employee and later manager of the Bartlett Electric Cooperative, recalls constructing the first lines on the rural system.

 

"The first line that was built was east of town out here, down on the south part of town, and then east, and two or three miles of line down there to some of the neighbors close in. We energized that very first line -- it was a 2300 volt single phase line. O.W. Davis and I actually energized that line one Saturday afternoon, and I believe it would have been March 8, 1936". [11]

 

The first section of Bartlett Community Light & Power's 59 mile line, which was to serve 110 rural homes, was energized March, 1936. Power was provided by the city's municipal plant. The Bartlett project was the first to be energized in the nation under an REA loan. Later, when Texas laws allowed the incorporation of electric cooperatives, BCL&P re-incorporated as Bartlett Electric Cooperative. [12]

 

Perhaps the efforts of co-op leaders was best summed by the editor of The Bartlett Tribune.

"The movement now on foot to supply electricity to the rural homes surrounding Bartlett should meet with a welcome response from the citizenship of this community and section. Electricity comes as a willing and untiring servant to relieve those who work in the

home of much tiresome labor. Rural homes need the benefits of electricity even more than town and city homes". [13]

 

Millions of farm boys will never know what it is like to bump their heads on a stable beam in pitch-darkness. Millions of farm girls will never know the experience of bending over an old-fashioned washboard. The young folks of today will never have these experiences so common to their parents and grandparents for the simple reason of the advent of electricity.

 

The degree of competition brought about by the cooperatives in their drive for low-cost power has profoundly influenced the price of electricity. But the important thing is that this great far-reaching program has shown once again that Americans, in spite of the prophets of gloom, know how to solve their problems, how to roll up their sleeves and pitch in and do what has long needed to be done. It is the equivalent in the age of power of the quilting bee and the barn-raising, and it is every bit as American in concept and in practice.

 

view Bartlett Electric Cooperative Bibliography

 

 


 

view more on Bartlett Texas