“De-lighted” was the general consensus when, at 4:37 p.m. on January 20, 1916, electric current flowed through strung wires in Altamont via Voorheesville and Guilderland Center. Locals were well aware of the convenience and superiority of electric power, eager to simply flip a switch.
After all, articles about the wonders of electricity had appeared in The Enterprise and other publications for decades and most townspeople at one time or another had hopped on the train to Albany or for a holiday excursion. on one of the local railways to experience it for themselves.
However, just as with Internet cable today, utilities such as the Municipal Gas Company of Albany would only run power lines to sites where they could profitably reach a group of many potential customers in a small zoned. Altamont, and to a lesser extent Voorheesville and Guilderland Center, fit the bill and the company decided to connect with the line already stretching as far from Albany as Slingerlands.
Initially, the Municipal Gas Company’s proposal to bring electricity to Altamont was met with resistance due to the village’s own gas plant. However, when the Albany Company arranged the sale and removal of the gasworks and streetlights to a Coeymans man for $2,200 (about $56,100 in 2022 dollars), the franchise to bring lines electricity and to install streetlights was then awarded to the gas company by the Altamont municipal council.
Once the deal was finalized, poles began to be installed along the main road between Slingerlands and Altamont, around 15 a day on most days, covering around half a mile a day. In anticipation of powering up in the coming weeks, many Altamont buildings, including the Altamont Hotel, Altamont Pharmacy, National Bank, Enterprise, and several private homes, were hardwired for power. .
Once electricity was restored, gas production would cease, giving Altamont residents the choice of hardwiring for electricity or returning to kerosene lamps.
Many homeowners chose to wire their homes as quickly as they could to get the job done, with their names appearing week after week in local Altamont and Guilderland Center columns. Altamont and Guilderland Center Reformed Churches and Altamont Lutheran Church were immediately wired for electricity.
The cost of the Helderberg Reformed Church and Guilderland Center Rectory was $500 (about $12,750 in today’s currency) and was paid for within a year.
Jesse Cowan and AJ Manchester were the two electrical contractors from Altamont who appeared to do almost all the wiring in Altamont and Guilderland Center and a few years later in the hamlet of Guilderland when power finally reached that part of town.
When Altamont’s 75 new streetlights were turned on, the results were found to exceed residents’ most cherished expectations. Previously, the streets of Altamont Village were dimly lit by 35 acetylene gas lamps supplied by the Altamont Illuminating Company. Lit at dusk, they went out at 10 p.m. except on moonlit nights when they remained dark.
In Guilderland Center, home and business owners who could afford the wiring also immediately began investigating the installation of electric water pumps, enabling them to have running water, indoor plumbing and flush toilets – no more pumping water by hand or going to the outhouse.
Altamont had already had a municipal water supply for years. The mention in the Guilderland Center column a few years later that a woman was ‘pleasantly surprised’ with a birthday present of an electric clothes washer shows how delighted people were with these new labor-saving devices .
A notice in The Enterprise alerted people with newly wired buildings that their insurance would be void if they did not attach a “standard electrical permit” to their policy.
Lighting wasn’t just a boon to electrical contractors. At least two young local men became electrical engineers and left town to work for big companies.
The Enterprise had a windfall by selling advertising space to contractors; the Municipal Gas Company of Albany, which ran large advertisements tempting consumers with all manner of electrical appliances; and department stores in Albany – WM Whitney’s held a special sale on a set of light fixtures, enough for a six to seven room home, worth $45 for $29.95 (which would be $763 today).
Even Altamont’s pharmacy had started selling small appliances and electrical supplies, including Christmas lights.
The General Electric factory in Schenectady was booming, providing employment for many local young men whose names were mentioned in the columns covering the various neighborhoods of the city. Several times in 1917, GE actually placed help ads in The Enterprise, looking for office boys, young women between the ages of 18 and 30 needed to operate sensitive drill presses and do odd jobs. assembly, and young men with a secondary education.
Exciting innovations began to appear. At a Christmas party at Guilderland Center’s ‘Old Town Hall’, ‘little toddlers’ were mesmerized by the Christmas tree ‘studded with decorations and electric lights’.
In Altamont, an illuminated sign advertising Forest City paints appeared in the window of Lape’s paint store. And at Masonic Hall, silent films at 10 cents ($2.55 today) were now played using the “new electrical apparatus”, which was “equal to any theater in town”.
Gaglioti’s barber shop boasted a front-lit barber pole with not only interior lights but an electric massage machine. The drug store may have had a new electric machine for shaking malted milk drinks, but on top of that, the new working corn-popper and peanut-roasting machine was heated and electrically lit in the newsroom of Keenholts, a very great attraction for the curious.
Hardly anyone would argue that electricity was not an improvement over the past, especially when every year at the Altamont fair all kinds of labor-saving appliances and appliances were exhibited and demonstrated .
But the installation, including wiring, light fixtures, reviewing insurance policies and monthly utility bills, required some wealth. Not all churches could afford to do this immediately – Guilderland Center Lutheran Church took until 1920 and St. Lucy’s Church in Altamont was wired in 1922 when further renovations were underway.
The Altamont High School building was finally wired in 1921 after ratepayers once rejected it when electricity had been available since 1916.
High demand, slow progress
What about other districts in Guilderland? One of Albany’s electric streetcar lines ran to the McKownville border at the turn of the 20th century, but no information could be uncovered indicating when the power lines began to be extended the along the Western Tollway.
Since a 1918 letter to the Enterprise from a ‘citizen’ mentioned that power lines had been laid at a point on the turnpike one mile east of the hamlet of Guilderland and had gone there stopped, obviously McKownville had power then.
It was not until 1920 that mention of the Guilderland individuals and the foundry installing the electrical wiring appeared in Guilderland’s Enterprise column.
There was such a demand for electricity in the populated areas south of this part of New York State that in 1922 the New York Power and Light Company decided to run powerful transmission lines through Guilderland , carrying electric current from the northern Mohawk south into the Hudson Valley. , its path cutting east of Dunnsville and continuing south through Guilderland into Nova Scotia.
The Enterprise correspondent in Dunnsville gave a detailed description of the 70-foot-tall transmission towers spaced 600 feet apart in an 18-foot square concrete base seven feet below ground. To this day, transmission lines still run along this route through Guilderland, though today they are gigantic descendants of the originals.
It took more than a decade after power reached Altamont and Guilderland Center for power lines to reach Fullers and Dunnsville. Finally, in the spring of 1927, the installation of poles along the toll highway was announced.
Although in 1924 Guilderland Town Council extended the franchise to erect poles and erect power lines on all town roads instead of just main roads, the power company was not interested and those who lived off the main roads continued to use kerosene lamps. , scrubbing clothes on a washboard, pumping water by hand, going to the outhouse in all weathers, and bringing a lantern to the barn.
If you had the money, you could buy one of the electric generators such as the “Silent Alamo Lighting Plant” or the “Delco-Light” that uses a gasoline engine and dynamo to generate power for your home and your barn. The cost was $250 (which would be $6,375 today) minus 5% if paying cash.
Even when power lines ran alongside your road, if your house was set back in a lane that required two or three extra poles to carry the line into your house, utility companies generally expected the homeowner to pay the cost. of these poles, an additional expense that some families were unable to afford, delaying access to electricity.
It took the Roosevelt administration’s push for rural electrification to get power companies to extend their power lines to less populated rural areas with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.
Finally, the New York and Light Company, successor to the Municipal Gas Company, began wiring the outlying areas of Guilderland.
A two-mile line along “Crounse Road”, from its description probably now called Hawes Road, would serve eight new customers, including seven farms. A year later, 10 homes and farms along Meadowdale Road were supplied with electricity.
And finally, at 22 years and two miles from Altamont in the last neighborhood of the city to be electrified, in 1938, residents of Settles Hill could finally turn on the lights.