Saturday, May 26, 2012

Modern Day Comforts in Hill City

During the train ride last weekend, I was making mental notes about various trackside details that I could add to my layout.  Of particular interest along the stretch of tracks that we traveled were some old telegraph poles.  A discussion broke out about whether Hill City in 1920 would have had telegraph or telephone service.  To be honest, up to this point, I haven't even looked into the existence of electricity at that time, let alone telephones.

I've learned a couple of interesting things today.  First, Hill City did indeed have electricity in 1920, and it was, in fact, provided by the Woodenware Factory.  According to this excerpt from, electricity came to Hill City in April of 1916:

The Woodenware Factory was interested in putting in a power plant, and as such, the village was contacted as to whether they might be interested in purchasing power for the businesses and homes there. This was looked on favorably by the townsfolks and so a local power distribution company was set up. "A plan for the formation of a stock company for the purpose of furnishing electric light and power to Hill City people is now underway and it looks as though it would go through. The thing is being undertaken by local men who not only are looking for an investment that will pay them but are also interested in the development of the community...There is little doubt that the majority of our citizens favor the installation of electric lights and will become patrons of the company....The plan is to arrange with the National Woodenware Co. for the delivery of electric current at a switchboard and this in turn will be distributed to patrons as cheaply as possible. The larger the amount of business the cheaper this can be done. Capital with which to finance the project will be ready as soon as it is apparent that our people want the lights. It is estimated that a house can be lighted by electricity for very little above the cost of oil lamps and at the same time we have the best kind of light for all purposes, that is clean, always ready for use and positively safe from explosion." (Hill City News ~ October 21, 1915) By April of 1916, the Hill City Utilities Company was formed. (Hill City News ~ April 20, 1916) 

Looks like I get to add lighting to my structures!

Even more interesting is what I discovered about telephones.  In the Fall 2011 issue of Ore Extra, there is an article (first of two parts) on the Missabe Telephone and Telegraph Department.  Yep, that's right, the Missabe had a telephone service, which it offered to residents in the communities that the railroad served.  The article includes a photo of the front cover of a phone book from 1912, with operating exchanges in several northern Minnesota communities.

So now I have two reasons to install poles on the layout - electricity and telephones.  Fascinating stuff!