Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Wednesday December 7, 1938, Enterprise and News.
St. Johnsville Progress Lighted Step by Step for Forty Years.
"White Coal" has Served This Community Well. Mr. Beardslee's Original Development Has Grown to Great Proportions. A Review of Progress Covering, Four Decades.
(By Howard Shatter, as told by John D. Cairns)

In 1881, Guy Roosevelt Beardslee, a West Point graduate, class of 1879, returned from fighting Indians in the west, to the family term on the East Canada Creek, just west of St. Johnsvllle, N. Y. The years immediately following the return of Mr. Beardslee to his ancestral acres, were given to the management of the Beardslee estate and travel and residence in various countries of Europe. In 1892, some young engineers (the names of two of them being Serrell and Bulch), and a lawyer by the name of Upson, all from New York City, obtained a three months option from Mr. Beardslee with consideration named at $40.000, on the water power at the falls in the East Canada Creek, about a mile from Mr. Beardslee's residence on the Mohawk Turnpike, which thoroughfare is now Route 5 of the New York State highway system.

It was the Intention of the young engineers to develop the water power and establish a pioneer hydroelectric plant at this point. But they were unable to secure the necessary capital for the projected enterprise, from the fact that this type of electrical development was then considered too much of a financial risk, and particularly so, because there wag no market for electric power in the immediate vicinity. At best, the current would have to be transmitted three miles to a village of inconsiderable size, with no large manufacturing plants as prospective customers, further, there was a question as to whether transmission over even that short distance could be made successfully.

At the end of the three months' option period, the engineers asked to have the option extended, but Mr. Beardslee refused, and undertook the development of the water power, himself. He planned to have a small hydroelectric plant at the falls, to meet his farm needs for power and lighting. He needed power for threshing and for cutting ensilage, and for other uses about the farm, and the development was undertaken without, regard to commercial possibilities.

<--Beardlsee Dam and Power House, early 1900s.

Mr. Beardslee's engineering training gained at West Point stood him in good stead, and by the latter part of 1896, the plant, was under construction. Before the plant was completed, a Mr. Sanderson, of Sanderson and Porter, Electrical Engineers, of New York City, suggested to Mr. Beardslee the possibility and advisability, of disposing of his surplus power to one of the neighboring communities for general power and lighting purposes. Mr. Sanderson explained that recent progress in electrical engineering science made transmission over considerable distances possible, and the plan entirely practicable.

The nearest village was St. Johnsville. N. Y., three miles away. The next possibly available market was Little Falls, N. Y., a small city, seven miles distant. The matter of a lighting contract with the City of Little Falls was taken up with the Mayor and Common Council of that place, and after due consideration, their decision was that the distance for transmission, namely seven miles, seemed too great to warrant them to consider the proposition with favor.

Lighting St. Johnsville

<-Piano Factory.

Then Mr. Beardslee turned to St. Johnsville as the only other alternative possibility. There, Roth and Engelhardt, piano action manufacturers, had a contract with the village for street lighting, and this contract had three years to run. Messrs. Roth and Engelhardt, public spirited citizens, had made this service possible to the village by operating their factory steam plant at night, furnishing the necessary power to generate the needed electric current. Under the limitations imposed by the requirements for power to operate their own factory machinery, electricity for lighting purposes was available at night only, or to be more exact, when work had been suspended in the factory, which at some periods of the year, meant from dusk to daylight. Mr. Beardslee at once negotiated with this firm and purchased their generator and distribution system and took over the contract with the village for street lighting, and planned to furnish current for general house lighting and power for manufacturing.

First Power Customers

<-Allter Knitting Mill.

On March 17, 1898, the switches were thrown at Beardslee Falls Hydroelectric Plant to energize the line to St. Johnsville. The first power customer was the Union Knitting company, of which Wesley Allter was the proprietor. The second outlet for power in the village was the grist mill of A. Horn's Sons, the proprietors being J. J. Horn and Fred L. Horn, brothers. At the same time that Mr. Beardslee began furnishing current to light the streets of St. Johnsville and provided the power for the two industries named, he had service on ;his farm. The farm was served by a line a mile long, the technical characteristics being 3 phase, 60 cycle, 2200 volts, the same as the line to St. Johnsville.

Late in 1899, Mr. Beardslee had completed negotiations with some of his farm neighbors, to take service. A Mr. Sadler wanted power to operate his grist mill at Inghams Mills, N. Y. about 2 1/2 miles away by the most direct route along the "Creek Road," but owing to right-of-way difficulties, this most direct route was not available, and a route had to be secured along what is known as "Snell's Bush Road," increasing the distance to 4 1/2 miles to reach Mr. Sadler's mill. Notwithstanding the increased expense involved, the line was put through to Inghams Mills, and when completed, brought power within the reach of Mr. Beardslee's farm neighbors, Charles Cook, William Feeter and Jerry Timmerman. The line was energized on Thanksgiving day in 1900. None of the farmers took service at this time.

In 1901, Charles Cook took service for power and lighting. In 1904, William Feeter had the line extended to his premises for power and lighting. The same year, Jerry and William Timmerman took service, but for power only.

An amusing incident is the story that after William Feeter had taken service, his neighbor, Jerry Timmerman, went to the Feeter farm to de??? he had recently purchased, and Mr. Feeter appreciating the enthusiasm of Mr. Timmerman over his new lantern, complimented him on his purchase and then shrewdly led him into the barn, where he turned on the electric lights in his horse stable. The contrast between the lantern light and the light furnished by the electric bulbs was so great, that Jerry was said to have exclaimed: "I have a notion to smash this ---- ------ lantern." It was not long before, before Jerry installed lighting along with power.

Difficulties in obtaining contracts with farmers were in a large measure due to installation costs, the patrons being required to purchase their own transformers, meters and other equipment. Below is a bill of items sold to William A. Feeter, August 1, 1904:

5 H. P. Motor, $206.00

2 3 KW type N. Transformers, 88.00

3 Primary Fuse Blocks No. 51874, 3.00

Polyphase Watt Meter, 40 Amp., 40.00

Lightning Arresters, 12.00

2 30 ft. Poles 5.00

107 lbs. No. 6 WP wire, 19.26

Total $378.86

All of the items shown above were incidental to conducting the current from the transmission line to the farm buildings, with the single exception of the 5 H. P. Motor. Besides this initial cost, the patron had the expense of wiring the buildings to distribute the current within the structures. At the present time, the Power Company meets the entire expense of equipment to take the current from the transmission lines to the first connecting point on the patron's property, within certain definite limitations of distance, and besides, furnishes the current at a greatly reduced cost over prices prevailing in 1904.

In 1904, Mr. Beardslee had a milking machine and water heater installed. The heater was of the old type grid pattern, submerged in a wooden tank.

Simon B. Storer, a representative of the Westinghouse Electric Mfg. Co., of Syracuse, N. Y. was responsible for the sale of most of the early generating equipment, and Mr. Storer acted as consulting engineer.

In 1906, a Burrell Milking machine was installed on the Feeter farm. The purchase of this equipment was generally fraught with difficulty as the elder David H. Burrell of Little Falls, N. Y., would allow the installation of this equipment only on farms where the sanitation and methods of milk handling passed his personal scrutiny. These machines were actually removed if the purchaser did not live up to his agreement as to cleaning and proper use.

Rural Electrification

The line east of St. Johnsville was built in 1903. It was a mile long and built to serve three farms, but one one farm was connected, that year. The two other farms were not connected until about 1915. The minimum monthly charge was $2.00.

The line west of St. Johnsville was built in 1904 to serve three farmers, but only one farmer took service at that time. This line was also one mile long.

The farm neighbors of Mr. Beardslee along the Snell's Bush Road were Stephen Still, Charles Cook, William Rockefeller, Alvin Snell, Edwin Snell, John Ricer, William Feeter, Jerry Timmerman, Joshua Snell, William Timmerman, Walter Snell, Willard Snell, Clarence Snell and Hezekiah Ecker.

It should be noted that this pioneer electric company, was in reality a partnership, the partners being Helen C. and Guy R. Beardslee, respectively, mother and son. This courageous venture on their part, involving all the financial risks incident in a new and untried field, was undertaken before it was possible to enlist capital under corporate charter. The family partnership built 4 1/2 miles of lines in 1909, 3-phase, 60 cycle, 2200 volts. The lines passed 14 farms, 18 residences, not on farms, 1 school, 1 church and 1 grist mill, but it was not until about 1930, that all fourteen farms had been supplied with service. In the meantime the original lines had outlived their usefulness and had to be rebuilt in 1924. It is worthy of note, that while the current was continuously available from 1900, a period of thirty years had elapsed before all the farmers had accepted service, and that deterioration of the outside physical properties had been so expensive that a hundred per cent depreciation had resulted, long before all prospective customers had contributed any revenue to the enterprise.


The nearby village of Dolgeville had a Hydroelectric plant in operation in December, 1897, about four months before the Beardslee plant was completed and rendering service. This plant was built primarily to light the village streets and local residences and to provide power for village industries, with no thought of transmission of power to a distance. Transmission of power to a distance was impracticable from the fact that the plant was of the "direct current" type and not adapted to that purpose. The Beardslee plant was of the "alternating current" installation, making transmission of current to a distance possible At that period of development of electrical engineering, there was a sharp limitation as to the ??? could be transmitted. The "alternating current" set up was just coming into use and the selection of this type of installation at East Creek made Mr. Beardslee's success possible. The Dolgeville venture was financed by private capital locally provided. Later, this plant was taken over by the Utica Gas and Electric Company and is now a part of the Central New York Power and Light system.

Fort Plain

Prior to the building of the three rural lines to supply the arming population, and line was built to Fort Plain in 1899. The village of Fort Plain was then being supplied with electricity by the Fort Plain Gas, Electric Light, Heat and Power Company which operated the steam plant, locally financed. At the time that the line was built to St. Johnsville, there was a movement on foot in Fort Plain to have the Beardslee company secure a franchise in that village and compete with the local company, but Mr. Beardslee with a fine sense of fairness toward the interests of the local investors who had organized the then operating company, refused to entertain the suggestion. Later, the local operating company, refused to entertain the suggestion. Later, the local operating company decided that it would be to their advantage to buy their current at wholesale rates from Mr. Beardslee and distribute it through their own distribution system. This being agreeable to Mr. Beardslee, the line to Fort Plain was built and completed in 1899, the first current being transmitted on July 26, that year. This arrangement was continued until the local company was merged with the predecessor corporation that later became part of the New York Power and Light Company, the present operating company in Fort Plain.


At the time that the Fort Plain company contracted with Mr. Beardslee, Canajoharie was being lighted by a local company which operated a steam plant. The stockholders decided to discontinue the operation of their generating plant and to buy the current from Mr. Beardslee, if possible. Negotiations were undertaken in 1900 and an agreement reached and first service to Canajoharie was in February 1901. Doctor Simons and William J. Roser, of Canajoharie were the prime movers in he matter of their village being served with East Creek power.

Supplementary Power

When the Beardslee Falls electric plant was planned, there was no apparent necessity for a dam or series of dams or impound the waters to regulate and conserve the flow. Nature, by the rush of the turbulent waters through the ages, had provided a natural suliceway through the rocks, making possible the initial construction with the minimum engineering difficulty and expense. The power provided by the natural flow of the stream sufficed to carry the daily load until 1901, when it because apparent that the volume of water was inadequate and the regularity of flow too uncertain, at certain time of the year, to provide for the increasing demands that were being made upon the system as new customers were added from time to time. Their deficiency in volume and uncertainty in flow was somewhat seasonal in nature, and particularly a matter of concern in summer during periods of drought. These difficulties confronted the management after the lines had been extended to Fort Plain and Canajoharie.

It was then decided to build a dam above the falls, and Mr. Beardslee secured adjacent land with riparian rights from the McAllister Manufacturing company, which concern operated a paper mill, just above the original power house, and the property so acquired became the site of the projected dam. The dam was completed in 1903, but even with this added facility, it was later found that to take care of the ever-increasing load, the water supply was still inadequate at certain times, and to obviate this difficulty, Mr. Beardslee entered into an arrangement with the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company of this village then under the management of Frank Gebbie, to utilize their steam plant from 3:00 P.M. each day until 6:00 the following morning, as an auxiliary source of power. Mr. Beardslee constricted a building just north of the Milk company's plant and installed an engine and generator. Steam was piped across the intervening space to this substation installation. The Milk company's plant is now the factory of the Palatine Dyeing Company.

This arrangement was continued until 1911, when the East Creek Electric Light and Power Company, the corporate successor to the Beardslee family, and one of the predecessor companies of the New York Power and Light company, built the Inghams Dam and the Inghams Hydroelectric plant and placed it in operation on November 20 that year.

In 1902, the Beardslee family sold their properties to the East Creek Electric Light and Power Company, of which corporation Mr. Beardslee was the president and in which capacity he continued until 1908, when he disassociated himself from active participation in the affairs of the corporation.

A Slight Error

Early in 1898 when the service was first given to St. Johnsville, oil-cooled distribution transformers were placed on the market and one was installed here for an experimental tryout, but shortly after installation this transformer developed a defect. It was reported that oil was dripping from the transformer to the sidewalk, and upon investigation it was found that the device was leaking and about half of the oil had been lost. After repairs, and as the lineman was pouring oil into the receptacle, a house wife who was sweeping her front porch, noticed workman with the oil can, and inquired as to the nature of the fluid that was being used, and upon being informed that it was oil, exclaimed: "So that was what was wrong with the light!" She had concluded that the electric street lamp was simply a glorified kerosene oil lamp and had run short of oil.

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