Light the night: Wadena generates more electricity

(Editor's note: this is the second in a series of articles about the genesis of electric power in Wadena, written by local historian Bob Zosel.) In 1903, the Wadena City Council took up the matter of all-night lights. It was decided not to grant ...

(Editor's note: this is the second in a series of articles about the genesis of electric power in Wadena, written by local historian Bob Zosel.)

In 1903, the Wadena City Council took up the matter of all-night lights. It was decided not to grant any more free all-night lights under the old system. Under the old system a person was allowed an all-night lamp free of charge when they used more than three lamps in proportion. The council found they were furnishing about 400 night lamps and getting paid for 40. They also discussed keeping the arc lights on Third (Jefferson) and Front (Aldrich) streets running all night and placed on a timer while the lights in the residential area would turn off at midnight. It was felt this would make a favorable impression upon strangers entering the city and for residents coming in on the night trains. It was decided that all mercantile establishments be charged $6 per month for the use of arc lights and saloons to pay $7 and not allowed to use them after 11 p.m.

Prior to this time the electric plant operated from dusk until dawn but in 1904 it became apparent that something had to change. The manufacturing establishments and merchants in town were demanding daylight electricity. It was not determined what the power would cost, but it would probably be the intention to establish a flat rate.

In 1905, a comment by John Anderson, druggist: "I think it would be safe to say that not over three times within the past month have the arc lights been burning in the portion of the city where I reside. The service we have been getting in this respect is simply rotten. Other parts of the city have been treated the same, and I must say that never since Wadena put in electric lights has the service been so poor as during the past year. I think the present council should light the city in a suitable manner or else resign and get out." Also in 1905 Superintendent G. S. Chrysler of the electric light plant had a scheme in which the excess steam from the light plant would heat the business portion of the town. This would do away with private heating plants. In August a discussion was held on building a modern building to replace the old electric plant building which had been declared unsafe and condemned. No action was taken.

In 1906, Superintendent Chrysler of the electric light plant had his contract renewed for another year at a salary of $190 per month. Also in December of that year it was announced that the light plant was not a payer but that the city's debt was being gradually reduced.


In 1907, due to a shortage of coal, the electric plant was operated on shorter hours. The lights came on as usual, but were turned off shortly after midnight. Mayor Ebner, owner of Ebner Milling Company, loaned the village enough coal from his supply to keep operating until their supply was replenished.

Later in 1907, the council again took up the question of a new building to replace the present electric plant building. The plan called for a 40-by-60-foot building of brick or concrete. Evidently there must have been quite a ruckus among council members as Mr. Dower and Mr. Schaf resigned from the council. However, the motion carried to construct a new building of concrete blocks. Also that year the council passed a resolution adopting the meter system as far as electric light was concerned.

In 1908, the Pioneer Journal called attention to the poor electric lights in Wadena and expressed the hope that whomever is responsible will screw up the lights a little, even if it takes more coal. Light plant superintendent George Chrysler took offensive and said it was nothing but a plan by the newspaper to start a spring campaign looking to the overthrow of the village council and himself and that the newspaper had tried to start an election fight every spring since he had been here, but had failed. The paper responded by saying that they were not interested in getting Mr. Chrysler's hide but only in getting better lights. Later in the year a resolution by A. R. Wiswell, recorder, was passed, stipulating that in the future all electric accounts be kept separate from all other village accounts so that the village could determine if the light plant was a paying proposition.

A Mr. K. Bagne, owner of the water power on Wing River, north of Verndale, had developed a plan to light Wadena and Verndale with his water power. He was in Wadena trying to gain the ear of some of the councilmen -- but to no avail.

In 1909, an item of interest in the Pioneer Journal: The tannery fire last Thursday night emphasized the need to make the efficiency of the department better. The whistle at the electric light plan appears to have outlived its usefulness. It cannot be heard throughout the town, and is not what it used to be. Whether the whistle is out of repair and can be fixed, is a matter for the electric light committee or the superintendent to determine. If it is no good, it should be replaced with a new one inasmuch as the first alarm of fire is invariably sounded by the electric light whistle, it's important that it should be a good noise maker. The fire bell is none too good and not a few of the members of the fire department and citizens were not aroused Thursday night and never knew of the fire until the next morning.

(Next week: 'Power down: The night the smoke stack crashed')

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