Laramie Gets Lights

Newspapers in September 1891, carried the news that the White House installed its first electric lights. Laramie achieved the same important milestone five years earlier.

As early as October 1883, Laramie resident W.H. Root proposed bringing electric lighting to Laramie. Following the successful, but limited, lighting of part of downtown Cheyenne in January, Root contacted the Brush Swan Light company who had done the Cheyenne project. They indicated they would install a similar set up in the Gem City.

The company was a no show and Root enlisted notable business men, W.H. Holliday, Edward Ivinson, E. Lehman and Robert Marsh in an effort in November of that same year to form the Laramie Electric Light, Power and Steam Heating Company to bring lights to the city.

Articles of incorporation were filed with secretary of the territory, but that effort also fizzled.

The Laramie Boomerang, however, continued to press for lighting which it deemed a “necessity” for the city and in July, 1885, bemoaned the fact that a “lack of harmony” within the business community had prevent plans from being implemented.

Shortly, plans moved forward rapidly to bring electric lighting to the city. In September that same year, the Boomerang noted that Root, joined by Marsh, mining expert M.N. Grant, banker John Donnellan and local surveyor R. M. Jones decided to move forward on the project and formed the Laramie Electric Light Company.

Jones was sent to Chicago to explore options for the machinery for the endeavor. Upon his return, Jones noted that he had examined the offerings of the Van Depoele company and reported that both incandescent light for homes and arc lights for street lighting would be available.

Jones also remarked that the light bulbs for homes would be offered for rent to interested parties at $1.50 per month with an additional $2-3 for the wiring. The paper remarked that not all could afford such an expense. By comparison, advertisements in the papers showed that $1 could buy 16 loaves of bread at the local bakery.

Nevertheless, plans went ahead and Grant and Donnellan left in November on a three-week trip to buy equipment for the electric plant. While no reason is given, in the end they decided to buy equipment from the Edison Company which was engaged in fierce competition at the time with Van Depoele.

The contract for the equipment was signed and construction on the building to house the plant began in December 1885, on a site located just north of the current intersection of Clark and 3rd Streets. Facing some winter delays, the building exterior was complete in March, 1886, and the Boomerang announced that a “force of men” was coming from the east who would start “poling and wiring” the city.

Poles were being cut near Tie Siding and water for the small steam plant to power the direct current dynamos would come from the water main which ran from the city springs to the UPRR rolling mills located just to the north of the plant site.

Later in March, the equipment was shipped to the site and the sturdy foundation to hold it was prepared. The Boomerang hailed the progress and stated “Laramie could hardly call itself a city” without electric lights. The Edison Company sent representative to oversee the installation of the equipment in the building.

A railroad siding from the main line was built to move the equipment to the plant site and the machinery was put in place in April. The Boomerang published a letter from Thomas Edison which read in part, “Laramie will have the best electric light plant – for the present – in America or the World.”

Finally, on June 10, 1886 the equipment in the plant was put into operation and electric lights were turned on for businesses and residences. The plant, operating only during hours of darkness, was deemed a huge success.

A primary use of the plant in the downtown area was to increase safety. Very bright arc lights were installed at the UPRR roundhouse and rolling mill, the railroad crossings at North A (current Fremont Street) and South B (current Grand Ave) and at the Thornburgh Hotel railroad depot.

The first light plant was only suitable for furnishing electricity for lighting, and the cost to consumers was not cheap. The August 1886, expense report for the Albany County Courthouse noted that county commissioners had approved a payment of $17.71 to illuminate offices in the building.

Recognizing the utility of electric power, plans were announced in June, 1887, to expand to produce enough electricity for uses beyond lighting. Construction began immediately and by February, 1888, the expanded plant was in full operation. One of its largest customers was the recently opened and nearby flour mill which was hailed as the first in the world to be powered by electricity.

Soon many houses in town were fitted for both lights and power. The Ivinson mansion was a prime example. When finished in 1893, it had both lighting and power and was furnished with exquisite fixtures.

The power plant was fixture in downtown Laramie until it was demolished in the 1970’s.

Kim Viner

Caption: Laramie Light Plant Building between 3rd and 2nd Streets on Clark St. (then N. "B” St.) circa 1889, with the expansion barely visible to the left and the second smokestack. In front with bicycles are the plant superintendent and the bookkeeper. They and the man in the back are unnamed. The new 3-storey flour mill is on the right.

Photo courtesy Laramie Plains Museum