Prior to 1935, Farmers in Bartlett milked cows by hand, housewives washed clothes with a washboard, and if they were lucky they had a gas-powered generator to provide electrical power. Today we are only 2 generations removed from living a day-to-day life of cooking dinner on a wood-burning stove and reading by candlelight. Can you imagine a life without your smartphone? No television tonight? The modern conveniences we have were brought to us in part by the pioneers of Bartlett, TX.
Downtown Bartlett had the convenience of electric power as early as 1905. Prestigious homes near Clark Street were able to take advantage of the electric power. But farmers did not have the opportunity to participate in electricity because of the cost and the distance to run power lines. “Rural” meant fewer customers and less revenue so there was little to no chance in the early 1900s of a rural farmer getting power lines run to his farm.
In the early 1930s, three farmers came together and each contributed $50 to start the Bartlett Electric Co-Op. Following that, Bartlett was the first in the United States – not just Texas, but in all of America – to receive an REA (Rural Electrification Administration). That federal loan was $33,000. This loan afforded Bartlett, TX the opportunity to extend electric power beyond the downtown area into the farms. In 1935, Farmhouses in Bartlett had electric lights where no other rural farms had such luxury!
If you stroll down Clark Street and over the railroad track, the original Municipal Power Plant is still standing in its original location across from City Hall. The old original Fairbanks Morse Diesel electric generators are standing right where they stood in the 1930s. That old power plant was run by volunteers and staff. The staff worked for 75 cents an hour! To set a power pole, 8 men dug the holes by hand and set each of the 35-foot poles. Many of these original poles are still standing in town today. When the power plant opened, Charles Saage paid a $5 deposit for a meter and was allowed to throw the switch to turn on the power for the new Power Co-Op for the first time.
Bartlett’s downtown has persevered despite the economic downturns through the years. The buildings stand strong, including the original Municipal Power Plant. It stands somewhat unmarked and forgotten although its contributions shine a light on all of America.