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Western Massachusetts Electric Company
Western Massachusetts Electric Company is the amalgamation of nearly 30 separate predecessor companies. In 1942, the Turners Falls Power and Electric Company, the United Electric Light Company (serving the Springfield area), and the Pittsfield Electric Company merged into a single entity, taking the name of the fourth member of that consolidation, the Western Massachusetts Electric Company, which had changed its name in 1934 from the Greenfield Electric Light and Power Company.

The earliest of WMECO's predecessor companies was the forerunner of both WMECO and Holyoke Water Power Company. In 1792, when John Hancock was governor of Massachusetts and George Washington was in his first term as president, it was chartered by the General Court of Massachusetts as "the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on the Connecticut River." The purpose of the proprietors was to improve the navigability of the river from the mouth of the Chicopee River to the Vermont/New Hampshire state line.

Flatboats traveled the proprietors' canals
Flatboats traveled the proprietors' canals
In 1794, the proprietors decided that the development of navigation on the river would be better served by dividing the project between two separate companies. Accordingly, the General Court chartered the proprietors of the Upper Locks and Canals on the Connecticut River to operate from the mouth of the Deerfield River northerly to the state line. The responsibility of the original company became the area between the mouth of the Chicopee River and the mouth of the Deerfield River.

That same year, the proprietors started work on a log-crib dam extending across the Connecticut River at a place called "Great Falls" (now Turners Falls). A canal 2.5 miles long and 20 feet wide was constructed from the dam to a point downstream near the mouth of the Deerfield River. A towpath was on the easterly shore of the canal. Teams of horses and mules did the towing. The canal had several locks. Upstream a dam and single-lock canal was built near the mouth of the Millers River, allowing barges to bypass the French King rapids. The canals were opened for business in 1798 and by 1802 there was regular freight traffic by boat from Long Island Sound to Bellows Falls, Vermont.

For the next 30 years the proprietors conducted a profitable business and collected tolls sufficient to pay stockholders an average of 4 percent. Toward the close of that period, the coming of the railroad to the valley began to reduce the use of the river for transportation purposes. Freight and passenger traffic on the Connecticut River above Hartford gradually diminished and then disappeared entirely. In 1856, the last towboat passed through the canal at the "Great Falls."

About that time, the proprietors received from the Massachusetts Legislature the right to develop water power at the "Great Falls". In 1865, Colonel Alvah Crocker of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and a group of investors purchased control of the "proprietors" and created an industrial area there as the industrial revolution got under way in America. They changed the name of the "proprietors" to Turners Falls Company in 1866. A stone-filled timber crib dam was constructed near the site of the original navigation dam. A power canal was blasted out of solid rock and mill sites were laid out between the canal and the river. A village named Turners Falls was planned. Soon several mills were located there.

The first electricity sold for commercial purposes came from a small company in Turners Falls which ran its waterwheel-driven electric generator at night. The power was sold to the Franklin Electric Light Company for distribution. The first generation of electricity from water power by the Turners Falls Company took place in 1906. It came from its Turners Falls Station, a 1,000-kilowatt unit located on the canal. By 1913, the station had grown to five units with a total capacity of 5,000 kW. Cabot Station was constructed in 1916, with an eventual capacity of 50,000 kW.

Turners Falls First Street Office
Turners Falls First Street Office
Just after the turn of the century, Philip Cabot joined Alvah Crocker in the Turners Falls group, becoming president of the company in 1908. He led his company well, creating a transmission company to carry electricity to Amherst and Easthampton. Thus, the Amherst Power Company was born. In 1914 its name was changed to Turners Falls Power and Electric Company.

World War I and the post-war period created an increased demand for electricity, so the company expanded its transmission system southward and by 1923 had reached the Springfield area. Another line went westward across the Berkshires to Pittsfield. In 1925 the company interconnected with HELCO by means of a line going south from Agawam. This was their first interconnection with a neighboring major utility. Also in 1925, the Turners Falls group became one of the originators of the Connecticut Valley Power Exchange for the purpose of coordinating hydro generation in Massachusetts with thermal generation at Springfield and Hartford. This later grew into CONVEX.

Western Massachusetts Electric Company
While the Turners Falls Company was enjoying the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, a new company was being formed only a few miles away. Greenfield Electric Light and Power Company, incorporated in 1886, was to be the immediate predecessor to WMECO.
Greenfield Office
Greenfield Office
This company's first generator was located in a shoe factory, which provided power from its boiler and engine after 6 p.m., when the factory shut down for the day. The electricity was sold for streetlighting and home lighting. By 1897, demand for electric lighting had grown so much that a new 3,000-kW power station was built. Following that plant was the Gardners Falls hydro station, which had a capacity of 4,000 kW.

When Greenfield Electric Light and Power built its headquarters building in 1930, it installed a heating system unique for its time and the first of its kind in New England. Inside the building, a large insulated tank contained water that was electrically heated during night or off-peak hours. The heated water was then distributed throughout the building during work hours.

Stanley Transformer
Stanley transformer
The Greenfield company was acquisition minded. Between 1911 and 1927-when it joined a group known as Western Massachusetts Companies — it had acquired five smaller electric companies. The Western Massachusetts Companies had resulted from an association of small companies which started soon after the turn of the century. The companies' officers and directors sought to consolidate stock control in order to resist takeover by out-of-state financial interests. Western Massachusetts Companies was therefore set up as a voluntary trust stockholding company; its subsidiaries continued to hold their own names as operating companies for their parent.
 

Pittsfield Electric Company
Commercial electricity came to Pittsfield in 1885, with arc-lamp lighting. Two companies first competed for business, then formed one operation, the Pittsfield Electric Company. The early owners were William Stanley and William Stanley, Jr., owners of Stanley Electric Company, which made alternating-current machinery.

Both Stanleys made major contributions to the fledgling electric utility business. They invented the transformer, which allowed alternating current to be available at different voltages. The transformer, combined with high-voltage transmission lines, helped make possible the spread of electric service over a wide area. They also invented the watt-hour meter, making it possible to measure electricity use with extreme accuracy.

The first generator in Pittsfield was a 35-kW machine. Several years later, a 1,875-kW steam-engine generator was built. Steam from this unit was piped to nearby businesses and sold for heating purposes. Silver Lake Station was built in 1904 and had a capacity of 7,500 kW.

In 1933, Lee Electric Company, which itself had acquired a number of smaller electric operations, became part of Pittsfield Electric Company. This would remain until 1942, when the Pittsfield utility merged into WMECO.

United Electric Light Company
Thanks to an experiment by Blair and Fiske Manufacturing Company, a lawnmower manufacturer, electricity came to Springfield. In January 1881, the company decided it needed better lighting for night work. They began experimenting with arc lamps and later extended this lighting to their roof to light an adjacent ice skating rink. This, in turn, attracted the attention of local merchants, who began installing the lights. Soon, six stores and a hotel were enjoying electric lighting. Demand continued to increase, and in June of that same year the Springfield Electric Light Company was incorporated, taking over the electric portion of Blair and Fiske's business.

Pittsfield Electric Company advertisement, 1915
Pittsfield Electric Company
Advertisement — 1915
Unfortunately, the new electric company could not handle the rapid expansion which followed. In 1887, United Electric Light Company was formed and purchased the Springfield utility. United immediately purchased land for a new generating station, which went into operation in 1889. In time, this station grew to a capacity of 45,000 kW. The company also developed hydropower on the Chicopee River. By 1934, it had a hydro capacity of 11,000 kW.

In 1912, United made a contract with Amherst Power Company, covering the sale and purchase of electric power. This was similar to agreements made today between utilities.

Forward from 1942
With clear roots back to the eighteenth century, the history of the electric utility development in western Massachusetts is characterized by entrepreneurial vision and technical innovation. By the mid-1880s, the outlines of the WMECO predecessor companies were well-established. During the first third of the twentieth century, consolidations and mergers added to the strength, stability, and efficiency of these companies. In 1942, the biggest merger was made when three companies were merged into WMECO. These were Turners Falls Power and Electric Company, Pittsfield Electric Company, and United Electric Light Company.

In 1946, Howard J. Cadwell became president of WMECO and led the company through an expansion period unequalled in its history. Cadwell began his utility career in 1929 with the Amherst Gas Company, which was merged into WMECO in 1934. He became WMECO's chairman in 1950 and held the position until the affiliation, when he became chairman of the Executive Committee at NU. In 1968 he was succeeded at WMECO by Robert E. Barrett, who simultaneously led HWP and WMECO until 1974, when he, too, retired.

West Springfield Station
West Springfield Station
Following World War II, West Springfield Station was built. Its first unit was 50,000 kW and was completed in 1949. By 1957, the station had a capacity of 200,000 kW. In 1961, when the Yankee Rowe nuclear station went into commercial operation, WMECO was an owner. Also under Cadwell, the Northfield Mountain pumped-storage hydroelectric project consortium was begun, a major upgrade of transmission facilities made, and participation in nuclear power projects such as Millstone 1 and CY undertaken before the affiliation.

Vigorously pursuing new uses for electricity, WMECO entered the electric heating market for dwellings in 1957. Offering a special day-night rate for all-electric homes, the utility became the first in New England to offer electric heat at a special rate. The incentives were soon offered to commercial and industrial customers as well.

Thus, when WMECO joined the NU affiliation, it was providing leadership to the utility industry at both the New England and national levels.
The first Yankee at Rowe, Massachusetts
The first Yankee at Rowe, Massachusetts
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