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1890s: The beginnings of BELD-and public power

1890sThe committee suggested that Braintree's street lamps operate from dusk until midnight, 25 nights a month, because the moon would provide light during the remaining nights. Watson's supplementary report on supplying electricity to workshops, stores and houses was initially greeted with lack of enthusiasm from town residents.

The committee also considered the town owning its own generating plant. "There are many reasons why in our opinion it is better for a town to own and operate an electric plant," Watson summarized, "but the chief reason is that a town can supply itself with light from its own plant cheaper than it can buy light from any company." Watson was the founder of a group Nationalists, who sought to promote public ownership and operation of all industries. It was largely through lobbying efforts by the Nationalists that the state Legislature in 1891 approved a bill allowing municipalities to establish their own electric light systems—the birth of public power in America.

On Oct. 29, 1891, voters concurred with Watson and his committee by a margin of 146-5 in favor of constructing Braintree's electric plant. For $750 the town bought a large lot on Allen Street in East Braintree, located on the Fore River where it could be reached by coal schooners. The first estimate for constructing a generating plant was $25,000, which included a building with a brick chimney, dynamos and equipment to furnish 100 arc lights, a steam plant, poles, wires and 90 lamps installed and ready to operate.

With Watson as chairman of a committee constructing the electric light system, by Oct. 14, 1892, operations began with two arc light machines capable of powering 50 street lamps each. Residents of Braintree quickly realized the advantages of electricity once the streetlights were in operation.

Operating from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., commercial and domestic lighting equipment was added to the plant at a cost of $16,500 in April 1893. The town's total investment was gradually paid back from Electric Light Company earnings. Watson agreed to serve as first manager of the Electric Light Company, but refused to accept money for his services.


History of BELD      1890s      1900s      1950s      1970s      1990s      2000s      2010s      Thomas Watson