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Columns

November 17, 2012

First electric lights for Oneonta on Thanksgiving 1887

We keep hearing of how “Black Friday” will start even earlier this year in some stores, with openings on Thanksgiving night for shoppers who just cannot wait for midnight anymore. Most of us remember when all stores remained closed on Thanksgiving, but there was an exception in Oneonta just 125 years ago this coming week. The reason was the introduction of electric light.

“Mr. E.P. Chapman, the first man in town to have the light placed in a business house, held a reception and had many of visitors,” read an article in The Oneonta Daily Local on Friday, Nov. 25, 1887. “He was well pleased with it. Now let the company push things as it has been doing, and Oneonta will not be ashamed of darkness. Another link in the chain of progress in which Oneonta stands pre-eminent in her onward march for a city charter.”

It would be another 21 years before that charter came to be. On that Thanksgiving night, residents had enjoyed their dinners earlier and were out to witness a bit of history.

“At one minute to six last evening the electric light sent forth its brilliancy to our once benighted inhabitants. Hundreds of our citizens could be seen standing on the side walks at dark, looking at the darkness, and all intent on one object — light.”

It was only a test run of the new system, which apparently needed some re-adjustments, so while Mr. Chapman had his reception, darkness returned at midnight. The new lights were on again full time within the next few weeks.

The new Oneonta Electric Light and Power Co. had been a recently formed business, as reported in The Oneonta Herald of Sept. 8, with “exclusive right to lay or suspend wires having been granted to M.L. Ford, F.D. Miller, H.E. Bundy, Frank Gould and D.F. Wilber.” These men spent most of September securing shares of stock, to reach $15,000 in capital. There were 126 subscribers of $25 shares, and the rest taken by the five founders.

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