The Vagabond – Gadsden’s first electric manufacturing plant

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By Danny Crownover

The first electrically operated manufacturing plant in Gadsden was a small corn-grinding mill located in the rear of Cassells Brothers Store and operated by Tom and Charlie Cassells.

In 1888, Captain W.P. Lay, who built the city’s first electric lighting plant the year before, convinced the Cassells to install a small motor to run their corn crushing mill.

Some years later when the Cassells built a large flouring mill on Seventh Street, they installed the most modern steam power plant that they could buy.

Lay, who was planning giant hydroelectric developments on the Coosa River, had travelled all over Alabama and neighboring states in an effort to secure data concerning the comparative costs of electric and steam power. He ultimately failed to find any satisfactory records. Lay, who was also promoting hydroelectric power in a coal producing state, realized that he had more than one problem on his hands.

Keeping in mind the corn mill experiments of 1888, Lay once again approached the Cassells brothers, this time with the proposition that they change from steam to electric power. That did not sound so good to the managers, who possessed a very modern and cheaply operated steam plant. However, Lay but assured the Cassells that he would be guaranteed against any loss, and they eventually agreed to the change.

E.T. Schuler and Associates, who had taken over Lay’s original electric lighting plant, agreed to attach a motor to the shaft of the steam installation, and the result was a savings of $87 a month. There was also a conviction that electric power, although charged for at the rate of 2 cents per kilowatt hour, was the most economical source of energy.

That was the starting of the electric power age in Gadsden. Later, the local steel, rubber, cotton and wood mills all had giant electric plants and installations.

Many small area industries and utilities became wholly electrified, and the demand for such power in the Gadsden area is such that the Alabama Power Company expanded its facilities at the cost of many millions of dollars.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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