The Electric Light Plant
One of the most innovative businesses to locate at this dam was the Middleborough Gas and Electric Company. The light plant was first privately owned. An entry in the local paper of 1890 tells how "ice clogged the water wheel at the electric works Wednesday evening and electric lights were dim." In another article a couple years later, the growth of the company is said to have grown during the past six months due to the excellent light offered at moderate costs. It also stated that applications of residences and businesses for the incandescent lamps was increasing.
On March 25, 1893 the town voted to buy the Middleborough Gas and Electric Company. The town Treasurer was empowered to issue bonds for $75,000 called the Municipal Lighting Bonds. This research will only investigate the electric portion of this purchase. By 1894 there were 101 electric customers. The electric plant had two arc machines running 103 street lights, one 600 light alternator, and one 150 horsepower steam engine all run by the two water wheels on the Nemasket River. The street lights were not lit during moonlit nights, so a petition was submitted to the Light Commission asking that the lights be turned on at least during the early evening, before the moon came out. On all other nights, except in the business section of town, lights were turned off at midnight. It was not until about 1917 that lights were allowed to burn all night whether the moon was out or not. The plant was not operated twenty-four hours while using all water power. This posed a problem for a varnish business on East Grove Street that used electricity to heat kettles of varnish. The electric plant would start up the water wheels for one or two hours during the daytime to accommodate the varnish manufacturer. It was not until 1908 that electricity was furnished in the daytime.
To help the flow of the water to the water wheels men would wade the river during August of each year and mow the weeds from the edge of the banks with scythes. The gatehouse erected at the mouth of the river often kept the water level so low that it affected the operation of the electric light plant. For that reason a suit was filed against the city of New Bedford in 1903 for putting a controlling device at the outlet of Quittacas in Pocksha Pond which affected the flow of water into the Nemasket River cutting power to the light plant. In 1906 the case was settled in court with $6,800 awarded to Middleborough. A similar suit against the city of Taunton was won and Middleborough was awarded $2,000. In 1906 the case was brought up again with a finding of $1,200 to Middleborough, but the town asked for a jury trial. The Superior Court Jury awarded $12,250 to Middleborough in 1907, but Judge King ruled the sum excessive, and instructed the town to accept $3,500 in thirty days. The town refused and the case was again before the jury. After the verdict awarded $13,241 to Middleborough. Taunton filed 27 objections. In 1909 the full bench of the Superior Court passed its opinion ordering the judgment on the verdict of the jury with interest and costs totaling $13,886.46. But $7,925 with counsel fees and other expenses deducted was all that was received from the City of Taunton.
A newspaper item in 1903 stated the plant was $15.71 ahead of the previous year. Money from the plant would be used to benefit the town. But in 1906 the people became dissatisfied with the plant. A committee brought in a consulting engineer to study the possibilities of improvement. The recommendation was that $20,000 be appropriated for two gas engines to improve electric service. Water power continued in use as evidenced by the April 19, 1916 town meeting vote that "the Municipal Light Commissioners contracted with the Plymouth Electric Company to furnish Middleborough all the electricity required, with the exemption of that produced by water power, for a period of five years." During this same years, service was expanded into the town of Lakeville.
In the early years, the electric light plant was administered by three members elected by the voters. Later the Selectmen served as the Lighting Board. In the 1980's the board returned to five members elected by the voters. Although today's power is purchased from neighboring electric companies at wholesale prices and redistributed to customers through a switchboard at the local station, this same original station once had the Nemasket River to thank for its power.