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When Electricity Came to Johnson County

Living in modern day America and Johnson County in particular, I believe we take many of our blessings for granted. As one who has been around a while, I remember when times were definitely more difficult. When I was growing up in Johnson County and if I remember right, there were few really wealthy folks in Johnson County, and many that were wealthy had the advantage of inheriting much of their wealth.
Anyway, wealthy or not, there were some blessings that we have today that weren’t possible in days past — even for folks with unlimited means. Electricity is one of those blessings.
I believe the invention of electricity is one of the greatest boons to mankind and it has revolutionized the world. But even now there are third-world countries that have little or no electric power.
As I was growing up on a little farm in the 7th District of Johnson County, there were few conveniences. Electricity was impossible to get in the rural areas of the county due to the expense of running electric lines to remote areas. That was true not only in Johnson County but in many other parts of the country as well.
It was in the mid or late ‘40s when we were able to have our house wired and connected to the electrical grid. I was about 10 years old and while I don’t remember the exact date when we were able to flip a switch and bathe the room in light, I sure do remember how glad we were to have the magic of electricity in our home. At that time many folks lighted their rooms with a single bulb in the middle of the ceiling that was turned on by pulling a string that hung from the light fixture. It wasn’t long before we bought a refrigerator, an electric iron, an electric range and other appliances that made life easier and more pleasant.
Getting electricity to the farms and homes of Johnson County didn’t just happen. It fell to a group of folks who were forward thinking and who were willing to sacrifice their time and often their financial means to provide the opportunity for Johnson County folks to have electric power. I won’t try to name folks who had a part in bringing electricity to Johnson County’s rural areas for fear of leaving someone out.
Prior to 1941, a few folks in Johnson County were able to have electricity but only if they lived near a small private power plant that was privately owned.
Mountain Electric Cooperative was formed in 1941and with assistance from the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) it wasn’t long until power lines began to be strung and those who were used to the dim, flickering light of the kerosene lamp could have much better light, not to mention the other conveniences that electricity brought about. I remember that in my early days, I studied my lessons by the light of a kerosene lamp. We had a radio, but it was powered by a large battery that had to be replaced about every six months. The best attempt to cool milk and other items was to place them in an icebox or cellar. Some people had iceboxes but seldom had access to ice during spring and summer months. We had a cellar with cold water running through it. Of course it couldn’t cool things as well as a refrigerator.
It was a great day indeed when a pull of a string or a flip of a switch bathed a room in light. I guess we shouldn’t forget Thomas Edison either. But, it was a long time between Edison’s great invention and electric power in Johnson County.