Presented below are a few highlights about the history of lighting in Washington Grove, based on Gail Littlefield’s research as we prepared for the Town’s updated nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Gail’s research relied heavy on Philip K. Edwards’ work, Washington Grove 1873-1937: A History of the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association (referred to below simply as “Edwards vol1”).
Installation of a system of electric “street” lights was considered a priority by Association leaders in order to further develop Washington Grove following the end of the camp meeting era. Col. Samuel Walker, Washington businessman and Association President from 1909 to 1913, wanted to push a “NEW ERA” of development of Washington Grove, including introducing lighting. (Edwards vol1 222.)
Early “street” lights were primarily on the avenues and at the Circle, and were lit by kerosene, gasoline, and acetylene. An early archival photograph shows a lamp post at the Tabernacle (Edwards vol1 81). None of these fuels was satisfactory, due to either cost, or safety, or dimness. Avenue gas lights were on short wood posts. A lamplighter had to light the lamps each night. (Edwards vol1 222, 227, 249.)
By 1912, Pepco, a conglomerate of several small power companies in the area, had power lines to Rockville to run the trolley. Around 1913, service was extended to Gaithersburg. In 1913 the Association entered into a contract with Pepco for the perpetual right to set and maintain power poles and wires along the streets and roads of Washington Grove, specifically excluding any poles on the walkways except lamp posts for streetlights. Installation of poles and wires started in April, 1914. Power was turned on in July, 1914, to 51 domestic customers, the Hall, and the Auditorium. (Edwards vol1 249 et seq.) In the fall of 1914, 26 iron lamp posts were placed on the walkways and lamps wired in. (Edwards vol1 378 shows an image of the Circle after demolition of the Tabernacle, with an iron lamp post with elegant spiral bracket, to the left). “The lamps had clear glass envelopes and glowed brightly” (Edwards vol1 251.) An unexpected benefit of the Pepco connection was Friday and Saturday movie nights in the Auditorium! (Edwards vol1 253.)
Washington Grove’s street/avenue lights have evolved over time. Today we can count an inventory of nine of our earliest existing street lights, with one example to be found at Acorn Lane and Grove Avenue.
The evolution continues – citizen volunteers of the Town of Washington Grove Lighting Committee have been meeting monthly to evaluate lighting needs and consider future issues as technologies advance.
Note: A reference copy of Edwards’ history of Washington Grove is available in the Town office.