Volume 31, Number 1 - Fall 1991

Electricity and city water came to Cassville 85 years ago
by Emory Melton

Santa Claus was good to the 702 citizens of Cassville in December of 1905. Prior to that time the households and business buildings in Cassville were lighted by coal oil lamps and water was obtained from either dug wells, cisterns or from the large springs walled by stone in the middle of Seventh Street at the foot of the grade on Seventh Street midway between East Street and Flat Creek, just southeast of the present LeCompte Lumber Company buildings.

The month of January 1905 brought welcomenews in the Cassville Republican which contained the following news items:

January 5, 1905 - "The new mill in operation and the water works for the town which will be put in soon as the preliminary arrangements can be made, are only beginners of the era of growth and improvement for Cassville."

January 12, 1905 - "S. M. Mitchell of the milling company, left for Iowa Saturday night. He was accompanied by Mr. Holcomb of St. Louis, an engineer in electrical construction, who was brought to Cassville to draw plans for the building of an electrical light system for the town. Mr. Mitchell stated that the electric lights will be a go and within a few months will be the real thing in Cassville."

Ingenuity had been at work earlier by some of the town pioneers when the County Court in an order made February 23, 1899 had named "J. M. Black, R. A. Gardner and L. F. Jones to superintend the laying of pipe from the Cassville Roller Mill (which was located adjacent to the big spring mentioned above) to the Courthouse yard for water supply."

S. M. Mitchell, an entrepreneur from Iowa who had moved to Cassville at the turn of the century bringing with him a stable of show horses and race horses, was quick to make his imprint on the county seat. He developed two of the residential subdivisions in the northeast part of town that bear his name. He also built a racetrack just west of Flat Creek south of the old reunion grounds with a large structure in the center of the track known as the "Flower House." In later years he headed a group that purchased the Cassville to Exeter railroad and electrified the four mile route. Not only that, but he owned one of the first, if not the first, automobile in Cassville. He also, at one time was interested in the quarrying operation at the northwest corner of Cassville from which the stone that was used to build the Courthouse here was quarried.

Again, turning to the city water system, the Cassville Republican reported:

March 16, 1905 - "Cassville will spend $10,000.00 this spring and summer on a waterworks system. It is being put in to protect county property as well as city property and the citizens of the city are paying the bills."

On May 22, 1905 Cassville citizens went to the polls despite a heavy rain which fell all during the day and gave almost unanimous approval to the water-works bond issue.

At this point a new player entered the game. On June 22, 1905, David Dingler bought a half-interest in the Cassville Milling Company where the lights and waterworks would be located. He moved here from Wentworth.

On July 13, 1905, the Cassville City Council met and awarded contracts for the material for the city waterworks. The Witte Company of Kansas City was awarded the contract for putting in the 40 horsepower gasoline engine and pump. E. Gibbons of Exeter was given the contract to erect the power house. The Bourbra Company of St. Louis was awarded the contract for hydrants. A Birmingham, Alabama Company secured the contract to put up the water tower and a Chicago firm would furnish the mains with work to begin as soon as possible.

Apparently, the first choice for the site to locate the waterworks was across the street from the D. P. Pharis residence, which was located near the southeast corner of what is now Main and Seventh Streets but for some reason this was deemed unsuitable and the site was moved to the milling company.

By the 17th of August, the water mains were delivered along the streets.

By the first of September, the Cassville Mill and Power Company was advertising for electric light poles. At that point S. M. Mitchell predicted that within 60 days he expected to furnish electric light. The prediction proved to be slightly optimistic.

In the month of December the waterworks started pumping with the water being taken from the water source at the big spring.

On Christmas evening, December 25, 1905, the lights went on and this historic moment was chronicled 12-28-05 by the Cassville Republican:

"Electric Lights"

"Cassville stores, for the first time in the city’s

history, were lighted Monday night by electricity. The dynamo arrived last week and was soon put in running order. The wires had already been stretched and nothing remained to be done but turn on the current. The stores looked like brand new establishments. The improvement is a good one and the mill company is to be congratulated on such a perfect test of the lights. From now on remember Cassville has water works and electric lights. We are in the procession with both feet and indications are we will remain there."

For many years the son of S. M. Mitchell, the late Lynn B. Mitchell, operated an insurance agency on the west side of the square in Cassville. He served as the perennial secretary of the Cassville Chamber of Commerce and its predecessor, the Cassville Commercial Club, while Mrs. Mitchell served as city librarian.

During a conversation almost four decades ago, Lynn Mitchell recounted the early days of "electric lights" in Cassville when his father operated the system. Today’s electricity is alternating current, but Cassville’s first... meaning that the generator produced the electricity that went directly into the lines. There were no storage batteries. A wide belt connected the steam or gasoline powered engine to the generator consequently when the belt ran off the pulley all the lights were suddenly extinguished. Lynn Mitchell said this frequently occurred and someone had to tend the system constantly.

In the beginning, electricity was furnished only between the hours of six and 10 o’clock in the evenings. Mitchell said use was limited to electric lights.

Thus, of the three major utility services, Cassville had obtained two. The city residents would have to wait more than three decades for the third.

When the great depression enveloped the country in the early ‘30s, the federal government came up with WPA programs whereby counties, cities, school districts and other political subdivisions could obtain what was known as a "project". The practice was not unlike some of the federal and state grants of today, except the object of the PWA and its successor, the WPA, was to put people to work.

To obtain a WPA project the municipality needed to furnish some "match" money. Consequently, in 1935, the City of Cassville began a drive to obtain a sewer system to serve the town. It was also during this period that the streets around the square were first paved. Prior to that time the city granted an annual contract to some individual to sprinkle the streets from a water or the back of a "stripped-down" motor vehicle. Frequency of sprinkling was determined by what was necessary to keep the dust down.

But, back to the proposed sewer system.

By March of 1938 the WPA project on the sewer system was well under way. The 1935 election to vote the bonds necessary to match the WPA grant had been declared invalid by the attorneys representing the bonding company and it became necessary to do it over.

On March 15, 1938, city voters went to the polls and approved the $14,500.00 bond issue by the phenomenal margin of 364 for to 3 against.

The City of Cassville, named after the Michigan statesman Brig. General Lewis Cass, became the county seat of Barry County in 1845 when the seat of government was moved here from McDowell.

At that time there were only three residences in the vicinity. One being the home of William Kerr and his family located just southwest of the big spring referred to in the beginning of this article; a second double log structure housing the family of Littleberry Mason and located on the east bank of Flat Creek west of the Fasco plant; and the third being the home of John 0. Burton near what is known now as the Crystal Springs Trout Farm.

In the past 145 years, the town has grown to a community trade center and attracted several industries employing hundreds of industrial workers. But much credit is due those who have pioneered the way.

Senator Melton, a frequent contributor to White River history, has served District 29 since 1972.

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