In 1913, a group of area residents proposed that the town purchase South Hadley's electric generating and transmission facilities from a private company to gain local control of this increasingly important service. To consider the measure, voters at a special Town Meeting appointed a study committee including M.J. Moriarty, A.R. Wilson, H.E. Hanks, H.E. Gaylord and F.A. Brainerd.
Residents vote for local control
After visiting other municipal electric utilities and examining the benefits of public ownership, the committee recommended that the town purchase the property of the original electric company. The foresight and wisdom of this venture would become obvious in years to come, but at the time it was a daring suggestion, supported by confidence in the ability of the town and its residents to shape their own destiny.
Town Meeting voters first approved the committee's recommendation on May 12, 1913, and then again at the second required vote on June 13, 1913.
First Board selects manager
In March 1914, Brainerd, Moriarty and Wilson were elected to serve on South Hadley's first Municipal Light Board. They promptly appointed Hanks, Gaylord, Dr. H.E. Doonan and R. Pettigrove to serve on an advisory board to help with the project. The Light Board selected Wilfrid W. Scott as the department's first operating manager – a position held by Scott until his retirement 36 years later in 1950.
The power station and electric generating equipment purchased in 1914 were "in a complete run-down condition" according to early department records. Located at the rear of the Hadley Mills, it was closed in July 1914. Instead of building a new plant, South Hadley arranged to buy power from outside sources – from Holyoke's municipal utility until 1925, and then from the privately owned Holyoke Water Power Company from 1925 to 1990.
Electric use booms
Early SHELD operations were directed from a small shop at the corner of North Main and Main streets, while the billing, collection and other office functions were based at Town Hall. In 1926, the Light Department erected a building on Main Street at its present location. This building was battered by floods in 1936 and 1938, when many of the department's early records were destroyed. A second story was added to department offices in 1941, and a new garage and warehouse were built in 1968.
The Light Department experienced substantial, steady growth from its inception through 1950, tempered by the effects of the Great Depression and World War II. Between 1930 and 1950, the kilowatt-hours purchased by the department increased from 1.8 million to 9.8 million.
By 1960, total kilowatt-hours purchased for local use had risen to 31.2 million, and the total passed 85 million in 1970. By 1989, electricity use was growing at a rate of 5.5% per year – more than double the state's average at the time.
A century of service
Today, SHELD annually buys more than 140 million kilowatt-hours for nearly 8,000 customers, relying on a diverse mix of power supply sources.
After a century of service to the people of South Hadley, SHELD continues to deliver the personal service and low rates envisioned by our utility's founders, and remains a valuable asset to the community.
(This history is taken, in part, from the 1989 Annual Report of the South Hadley Electric Light Department, "1914-1989, 75 Years.")