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black and white winter image of 15th street.  Horse and wagon in the distance and 1878 courthouse
Electric Poles on 15th Street, circa 1900

This wasn’t what I was planning to write about today, but our power was down for ten hours yesterday. I’m particularly conscious of (and grateful to) the power company today!

Golden has had electric power since 1887. M.T. Morrill was working as a schoolteacher in Georgetown in the 1880s, but was keenly interested in electrical power generation. As a sideline, he built the first electric light plant in Georgetown. When the time came for the City of Georgetown to contract for a larger scale plant, they gave the job to someone else. Georgetown’s loss was Golden’s gain. Morrill moved his equipment to Golden in 1887 and persuaded our City Council to allow him to illuminate our streets.. He and his wife both attended classes at the School of Mines to expand their engineering skills.

Upon receiving approval from the City in August of 1887, Morrill and his team immediately began sinking poles and stringing wires. By December of that year, we had lights on our principle streets and in some of the buildings. Opera House events became very bright, dazzling affairs.

Feb. 29, 1988 Transcript ad showing electric rates measured by time of day and candle power
Rate Card

Morrill’s firm was called the Golden Illuminating Company because at that time, “illuminating” was seen as the main job of a power company–there were few other uses for electricity in 1887. Rates were determined by “Candle Power” and time of day. Customers purchased their lamps, fixtures, and cords from the power company.

Within a few years, other uses began to develop. Golden had an “electric steam laundry,” which was located right at the power plant. The Transcript acquired electric presses and became one of the company’s biggest customers. One of the downtown merchants (Nick Koenig) acquired an electric cigar lighter and that was a focus point of his advertising for months to follow.

Pen and ink drawing of brick building with many power lines running out and a dark plume coming from smokestack
Golden Illuminating Company on Jackson St., between 12th & 13th From the 1893 Golden Globe Industrial Edition

The plant ran on steam, and so burned coal. The number and size of boilers increased as demand for electricity increased. Imagine having a coal-burning power station half a block east of Washington Avenue! Over the years, the possibility of using water power was discussed, but water was so precious that people didn’t like the idea of allowing anything to interfere with the flow of water to Golden. In about 1906, the Golden Illuminating Company began buying its power from a Denver firm and was able to stop generating it on Jackson St.

By all accounts, the company provided good service by the standards of the time, but it had its limitations, as described in this Transcript article from 1930:

In this day when even a slight flicker of the electric lights is the signal for a rush of “trouble shooters” a few Golden people remember the old Golden Illuminating Company and its brand of juice.

Power was generated here in Golden, with steam. In the evening the engineer in charge would fire up and then adjourn to the Opera House Cigar store for a game of cards. There he would stay until the lights began to grown dim, when he would rush back to the power house, fire up again an hasten back to the game. Some evenings when the hand was particularly interesting and the game hard fought, the lights in Golden would be almost indistinguishable before the engineer could get back and get sufficient steam in his boiler.
Colorado Transcript
– July 10, 1930

Thanks to the Golden History Museum for providing the online cache of historic Transcripts, and to the Golden Transcript for documenting our history since 1866!