How the Washington Electric Co-op Began

How the Washington Electric Co-op Began (Reminiscence by a Co-op member printed in the 1964 WEC Annual Report)

One July day Harmon Kelly called on Lorie and Elizabeth Tarshis to suggest their writing to Washington to ask about rural electricity. Raymond Ebbett and Lyle Young met with them. They decided to try to form an REA Co-op. Meetings followed in people’s living rooms.

On July 14th the first public meeting, conducted by Harmon Kelly, was held in the Grange Hall, Maple Corner. It had been hard to get people to come. Meetings had been held before about getting Green Mountain Power and had always ended in disappointment. As Mr. Kelly talked, people became optimistic and began to suggest sources of water power. We even considered the radical idea of a diesel engine. Several strangers sat listening in the dark shadows at the back of the lamp lit hall. One made a long rambling speech against socialistic schemes ending: “And you’ll have to admit I told you.”

We found out who our visitors were when they went to the owners of the best farms and promised them Green Mountain Power within three weeks if they would “give up this nonsense.” Harmon Kelly was told to give it up or lose his job. Neither bribes nor threats worked. On July 29th the REA Co-op was formed with Harmon Kelly, Lyle Young, and Elizabeth Kent Tarshis as incorporators.

My diary for October 7th 1939 reads: “Autumn color splendid. Electricity booming. Stakes set to mark where poles will be.” On October 12th, the first pole was set on the McKnight farm in East Montpelier. I remember it, well braced, standing black against a cold sky with bright leaves whirling in the wind and a man from Washington saying: “You folks don’t know what you’ve started. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a thousand members some day.” The first hundred looked at each other in disbelief. No one imagined there would be more than three thousand in 1964.

On a May night in 1940, for the first time since the power was turned on, I drove along the County Road. In houses, dark last year or with lamps dimly burning, every window was a blaze of light. There was music everywhere – cows listening to records, housewives to radios. I stopped, found one friend happily running a new vacuum cleaner over an already immaculate rug. I hurried on to my own dark house and turned on every one of our new 100 watt bulbs. The miracle had come.

1939 - When it all began

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1940 -1949

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1950 Forward

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