May 3, 2020

Electricity Comes to Prescott...Gradually

When electricity came to Prescott, it was not fully embraced. Instead, the illumination of the city came with fits and starts.

Yavapai County was no stranger to electrical power and lighting. The reduction mills often ran off electric generators and some of the larger mines had taken the progressive step of using safer electricity for lighting; but at this time Prescott was lit mostly by gas and other flammable lamps. 

As early as the beginning of 1886, the Journal-Miner stated that “it would like to see…Prescott lighted with electric light.” However, it would be a decade before that happened completely.

Nearly two years later, an electric light power generator, owned by Gov. Nagle and used at the works at Walnut Creek, became available, and it was hoped that Prescott could acquire it. The deal never materialized, however,  perhaps because it would be too small for the needs of the largest city in the county. So in February, 1888, the City Council created a special committee to investigate the electrification of Prescott, and its work would require the rest of the year. 

In its first issue of 1889, the paper reported that the City Council “granted a franchise for the Prescott Electric Light Company to commence business.” Immediately stock was sold and $13,000 raised. “Subscription to the capital stock is payable as follows,” the paper reported. “20% on call of the treasurer, and in 10% installments thereafter.”

The Board of Trade and businessmen were consulted and $5000 was allocated to purchase and “put the plant in working operation.”

“AL Bagnell, of the Brush-Swan Electric Light Company…says that a portion of the electric light plant has already been shipped to Prescott, while the balance is under construction by the company. Within 60 days at most, and probably within 30 days, Prescott will be lighted by electricity,” the paper boasted. 

Instead, over 90 days passed before the first portion of the plant was delivered and another 30 days before the rest off the machinery arrived. Finally, the plant began construction. On May 21, 1889, the City Council passed an electric light ordinance and Bagnall was named superintendent of the project. It took him and his crew less than two weeks to install the plant at the sampling works.

“The currents are generated through a dynamo propelled by a Westinghouse engine, which charges the wires,” the paper explained. “The incandescent lights contain a 16 candle power. The former are intended for use in residences and small edifices and the arc for the lighting of the streets and large halls.” 

The building and history of Prescott AZ's last railroad depot.

“The citizens of Prescott (were) invited to witness the initiation of the electric lights,” and “a goodly number of our substantial citizens” attended, the paper said. Still, it would be a few more days before they began to run the wires.

Aside from the sampling works, the first building to receive electricity in Prescott was the Bellevue Hotel. It must have been quite a sight with the paper describing it as being “in full blast.”

Wiring occurred quickly. “The electric coils are winding around the town and folding it in a network of wire,” the paper declared. The Goldwater store decided to use electric lighting on the front exterior “to illuminate the footsteps of the night wanderer,” while “a large arc light in front of the Palace Saloon (would) shed its rays across the Plaza.” 

The switch was turned on a week ahead of schedule, but subscribers were scattered. “A large number of business houses were illuminated by electric lights last night,” the paper wrote, and “the machine proved a complete success;”—at least at first.

“It is notable that the cities in which the electric light has been introduced have, in a great measure, reduce the annual aggregate of conflagration,” the paper observed. “It is also more noteworthy that insurance rates have in consequence been lowered.” 

After witnessing the electric lighting around town, more subscribers came on-line including the Sazerac Saloon which placed incandescent lighting in the front of its building. The increased customer base quickly taxed the power generated. By the first part of the following month, July, power had to be shut off for 2 weeks for changes to be made to the machinery.

Again in August, another upgrade was necessary and the city waited several weeks for a new engine and boiler. One thing noticed by citizens and the paper was a number of toads congregating around the electric poles “to feast on the fried bugs that tumble to them sizzling hot.”

In October, the newspaper editorialized that the Courthouse should use electric lighting. “A light is kept burning all night in the jail, which is liable to explode at any time. Electric lights would be cheaper, safer and better,” it said. However, this would not occur until the middle of the next decade.

In 1893, a new electric plant was built and at the end of that year, the Hotel Burke was the the last downtown business to become a customer of the electric company.


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Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/23/1887; Pg. 3, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/8/1888; Pg. 3, Col. 4.
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Weekly Journal-Miner, 6/5/1889; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 6/26/1889; Pg. 3, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/3/1889; Pg. 3, Col. 8.
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Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/28/1889; Pg. 3, Col. 1.
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Weekly Journal-Miner, 1/10/1894; Pg. 3, Col. 5.

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