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Electricity Comes to Sunnyview

The Sunnyview house of course did not have electricity when originally built in 1903. Utility-supplied Electricity did not come to any part of Kentucky until several years afer the house was built. Even after electricity began to appear, rural farms had to generate their own, or do without for a long time.

The nearby City of Flemingsburg had received electricity some years before utility based power came to the farming community, although we do not know the precise date.

1950s Kentucky farmhouse
The Sunnyview farmhouse as I remember it as a child.

Kentucky Utilities was incorporated in 1912 to serve five cities in Ky. Within five years, KU had grown to serve some 51 communities. Nearby Mt Sterling was listed among the earliest additions to the system, and we are certain that Flemingsburg very likely followed soon thereafter, although we can find no actual record of exactly when. We are not precisely sure when they got around to electrifying Flemingsburg, but sometime well before 1920 is a good guess. It seems likely that if Mt Sterling was among the first communities, Flemingsburg, as the Fleming county seat, would have not been far behind. Outside of the cities, rural folk had to make do with kerosene, and perhaps windmill charged batteries, until the RECC began wiring the county.

My mother told me that there was a small windmill generator and some big storage batteries at Sunnyview at one time. What they were used for, I am uncertain, but the customary usage would have been for powering a family radio, and possibly a few small lights. The capacity of such a system would have been severely limited and not able to power much. Electricity was a poor competitor to the oil lamp in those days.

Electricity adoption by cities was rapid in the 1920s, but stalled after the onset of the great depression in 1929. In 1926, an artist and Commercial Manager for the Alabama Power Company created an iconic logo which caught on and quickly spread nationwide, an icon of the electricity industry for decades thereafter. Now, Reddy Kilowatt is largely retired, used only by a very small number of utilities.

Throughout the early 1930s hard economic times greatly limited the widespread adoption of electricity, particularly in farming communities where farmers had very little disposable income.

Kentucky Utilities served the cities, but was uninterested in serving the farms due to the low density of possible subscribers. Installing electrical service was expensive, and KU preferred the “easy, low-hanging fruit” of city subscribers where one transformer could serve many customers. If the farms wanted service, they had to find another path. The New Deal fostered legislation to encourage formation of electricity cooperatives, and the citizens agreed to form a Cooperative and do it themselves.

The Rural Electric Cooperative was incorporated March 10, 1938, and soon brought electricity to the farm. Initially getting people in rural areas to sign up for electricity reportedly was a challenge. The invention was new, the concept unfamiliar and many thought the popularity of electricity would fade away. Harsh economic times limited the ability of the less wealthy farmers to afford it, and in any case, many thought electricity was a new gimmick.

As electricity became more widespread, and became more accepted, people began to trust it more. Once people saw the advantage of electricity, more customers came, and by the end of the first year the Co-op served a total of 320 subscribers on 98 miles of wire. Afer an initial slow start, demand exploded and soon the whole county was wired. We don’t know exactly when electricity came to Sunnyview, but that first year, or at least soon thereafter does seem likely.

My mother has talked about batteries and other remnants of pre-RECC life when she first knew the place around 1943. More recently, she stated that the place did indeed have electricity when she first worked there, but we suspect it was probably a rather recent upgrade. In any case electricity was retrofitted into the old house. I have vague memories of knob and tube surface wiring, and odd-looking outlets as a child.

One incident remains in my mind. Sometime in the early 1950s the service drop wire that connected the house and the station became damaged and had to be replaced. Perhaps it was knocked down in a storm, but my early childhood memories to not retain any such details. All I remember is that the wires were down on the ground, and workmen were there to fix them.

Reddy Kilowatt
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