A Powerful History

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A Powerful History - Rappahannock Electric Cooperative

A Powerful History

how local people brought electricity to the area

A Powerful History

how local people brought electricity to the area

As difficult as it is to imagine in today’s world of every kind of electronic device,

there was a time when the area now served by Rappahannock Electric Cooperative

(REC) had no electricity. No refrigerators. No radio or TVs. No air conditioning.

No washing machines.

Knowing great things could happen if they worked together, local farmers, businessmen

and community leaders from Caroline County, Va. banded together to form

Farmers Rural Utilities in November 1935, which later became Virginia Electric

Cooperative (VEC) in June 1938.

In August 1938, a similar group from Culpeper and Madison, Va. created what

later became known as Northern Piedmont Electric Cooperative (NPEC).

Owned by the same people it serves, called “members,” a cooperative is a democratically-controlled

form of business. Members elect the board of directors and

take action on important issues at an annual meeting.

Much has changed since those first organizations were formed. However, the

guiding principle of the Cooperative has remained the same. Rappahannock

Electric Cooperative exists to enhance the lives of its members by providing

reliable, affordable electric service and by playing an active role in enhancing

the social and economic well-being of the communities it serves.

As REC celebrates the 70th anniversary of its founding, it’s

important to honor those early days. It was only 70 years ago

when the vast majority of people in this area did not have

electricity. What was it like for them to live without the

benefits of this vital service, and how did their electric

Cooperative change the social landscape of the region?

The answer to these questions also provides the foundation

of the Cooperative’s future. REC was created so that all could

have electricity. As the nature of our future energy use changes, REC will continue

to exist for its members, providing them the same reliable service they have come

to know and trust for the past 70 years.

A Powerful History 5


Creation of the Rural Electric Administration

Soon after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, cities across America

were electrified. It would be over 50 years before electricity began to be delivered

to Americans living in the sparsely populated countryside.

During this time, two classes of American citizens developed: those with and those

without electricity. Cities were served by investor-owned utilities that saw compact

distribution systems that could provide service for a profit.

The convenience and productivity electricity

made possible in the cities remained alien to

rural Americans. Investor-owned utilities

chose not to serve the less densely populated

rural areas. They could not justify building

a delivery system for the small amount of

electricity farms would buy, much less make a profit.

Percentage of farms

with electricity in 1930

9.5 % United States

1.8 % Spotsylvania County

0.6 % Caroline County

If electricity was to be brought to rural America, farmers were expected to bear the

cost of constructing the power delivery system. It was a cost they could not afford.

As a result, they lived and worked without electricity and the simple modern

conveniences it provided.

Light bulbs did not brighten dark rooms. Electric pumps did not draw water to

make indoor plumbing possible. Farmers relied on the horse rather than the

electric motor to make their ventures productive. Rural Americans lagged behind

their urban counterparts socially and economically.

In the 1930s, the woes of the Great Depression made this situation even darker.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal for the American people recognized

the inequity. On May 11, 1935, the President signed into law executive order

7037 creating the Rural Electric Administration (REA). With the stroke of a pen,

While urban

areas enjoyed

the benefits

of electricity,

rural Americans

lived without

its convenience

until the late



The Need for Electricity

REA comes to Virginia

he began the greatest movement that would change rural America for good. The

REA would provide the resources to bring electricity to millions of rural Americans.

With the means for rural electrification created, the way for creating electric

distribution systems all across America was clear. Farmers, businessmen and

community leaders could now band together to bring electricity to their country

homes. The Rappahannock region of Virginia was the setting for one of the early

stories of rural electrification.


REA Comes to Virginia

The idea for a local electric cooperative was born during a conversation held

in the late spring of 1935. Dr. J.R. Travis of New London and Francis D. Pitts of

Sparta, both rural citizens of Caroline County, Va., had long wanted electricity,

but were unable to receive it themselves. They gathered leaders from nearby

communities and looked into the idea of utilizing the newly created REA program

to establish a

rural electric business.

To satisfy the REA requirement of at least 100 miles of constructed line to serve

300 customers, Dr. Travis and Mr. Pitts, along with other community leaders,

spent countless hours driving country roads to rural homes, schools, and

churches explaining the creation and viability of an electric cooperative. It was

their daunting task to convince people to pay the $5 membership fee and spend

at least $3.50 a month for electric service.

Finding those who wanted electricity did not

prove to be a problem. The Caroline Progress

heralded the new business venture in late 1935.

“REA Project Arouses Wide Interest” was the

headline. “No project in many years, if ever,

has aroused such widespread interest among

Caroline County people as the proposed

electrification of the rural areas of the county.”

Their efforts paid off as applications poured

in from all areas of Caroline and surrounding

counties, with a membership of 500 achieved

by October and 800 in November. The promise of electricity was growing

An REA check for $366,000 is signed for rural

electrification to extend to eight counties.

brighter, and word was spreading into surrounding counties. The formation of this

rural electric cooperative was quickly taking shape.


Under Virginia law at the time, there were no provisions for the creation of an

electric cooperative. As a result, Dr. Travis and Mr. Pitts formally organized the

membership as a nonprofit company. On Nov. 29, 1935, this new company

became known as Farmers Rural Utilities (FRU). Local community leaders C.A.

Holloway, R.F. Hoberton, A.J. Gouldman, and R.R. Denison joined these two men

to create its first board of directors.

Actively seeking members, FRU was also searching for a knowledgeable manager

and employees to build its system. Without an office, supplies or equipment,

Mr. William H. Brown was hired to bring electricity to FRU’s members in

January 1936.

Mr. Brown entered the following in his

journal on Jan. 28, 1936: “Borrowed two

small tables, two chairs, and typewriter…

and moved into office quarters, using

hallway pending preparation of the two

front first floor rooms for our use …”

The first FRU office opened in 1936 on Main Street

in the town of Bowling Green.

Starting from an office in Bowling Green,

Va. located in the hallway of a residence

and with the approval of a 20-year loan

contract for $366,000, FRU commenced

mapping, planning and engineering its

electric distribution system.

Farmers Rural Utilities Turns On the Lights

The first phase of the new REA project called for work on 3,750 miles of line

in Caroline, Spotsylvania, and Hanover counties to bring electricity to 14,000

customers. Using a listing of members and road diagrams provided by members,

Mr. Brown worked to complete the engineering details. Frequent entries into his

journal included “Worked on load center calculations and studied possible line

layouts and operating conditions.”

It would take several weeks of such studies to put into place FRU’s system.

Mr. Brown and FRU’s board of directors spent countless hours traveling country

roads attending membership meetings and providing details about the progress of

the Cooperative. Members were anxious to receive electricity.


FRU is born

The lights are turned on

(L-R) Farmers Rural Utilities brings power to its first farm in 1936; early Northern Piedmont Electric Cooperative

workers raise the first poles; and these crews work long hours to deliver electricity to the countryside.

The cost of line construction would have to be reduced before rural people

could receive electricity. Several REA innovations made this possible, including

the creation of:

• two-wire, vertical-designed single-phase lines to eliminate the expense of

attaching a cross arm to each pole;

• high-strength conductors that allowed longer spans of wire, reducing the

number of poles needed per mile of line from 30 to 18; and

• the assembly line process where crews staked lines, dug holes, manually set

poles, and strung line to finish the job. This process dramatically decreased

the cost of line construction.

FRU’s electric distribution system was constructed using this innovative con-struction

process. By March 1936, work was occurring along Highway 1 in the Doswell

and Gumtree areas. It included a power line from Doswell to Highway 2. From this

area outward, FRU’s distribution system was created.

The hard work by local citizens and employees came to fruition on Aug. 8, 1936.

After months of meetings, planning and construction, the first REA-financed power

line in Virginia and on the East Coast was energized. With little fanfare,

the Maury E. Quarles home off of Highway 1 in Carmel Church turned on the

lights for the first time. Electricity was now being provided to rural Virginia.

In 1938, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Rural Electrification

Act, recognizing the nonprofit utilities. This important step allowed FRU to

reorganize. In June 1938, the newly named Virginia Electric Cooperative

was created. Using funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the

Cooperative constructed a new office on a two-acre lot on Route 2 north of

Bowling Green. It finally had sufficient facilities to bring electric service to the

surrounding areas and counties.


Another Cooperative is Born

Shortly after the creation of Virginia Electric Cooperative,

another rural electric cooperative began to

take shape in Virginia’s northern Piedmont region.

Under the direction of A.J. Jesse, county agent from

Madison, Va., and T.A. Jeffries of Culpeper, Va., local

leaders gathered in the town of Culpeper’s municipal

building. They discussed providing electricity

to the rural areas of Culpeper, Madison, Orange,

Greene, and Rappahannock counties. On Aug. 24, 1938, the results of their

efforts were seen with the creation of Northern Piedmont Electric Cooperative.

Northern Piedmont Electric opens its

second office in 1938 in Culpeper, Va.

Using REA guidelines, this Cooperative obtained the necessary membership

applications and construction information. A state charter was granted, and the

Cooperative located in a small building on Main Street in the town of Madison. A

short while later, Northern Piedmont Electric Cooperative relocated to East Davis

Street in the town of Culpeper.

In late September 1938, the Virginia Star reported, “T.A. Jeffries … received

notice from O.P. Tucker, president of the Cooperative, that an appropriation of

$160,000 has been made for rural electrification in these counties.” Northern

Piedmont Electric Cooperative obtained its first REA loan allotment. It was expected

that $1.5 million would eventually be lent to build 700 miles of power lines into

the surrounding counties.

The initial loan amount was used for construction in the Brightwood, Novum, and

Reva areas of Culpeper and Madison. With construction of up to four miles of line

a day, it was not long before the first people received electricity.

On April 22, 1939, the first Northern Piedmont Electric Cooperative meter was

set at the home of Ed Utz of Brightwood. That same day, Thomas Blakenbaker,

Dewey Backe, and J.R. Lohr received service. The following day, 126 more homes

received electricity. The rural people of the Northern Piedmont were on their way

to receiving electricity.

(L-R) A lineman reviews

his work plans; the first

Northern Piedmont

meter is set at the home

of Ed Utz; T.A. Jeffries

was Northern Piedmont’s

first manager.


Northern Piedmont is born

Members vote to consolidate


The Creation of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative

As a result of the energy crisis of the 1970s and its effect on the cost of wholesale

power, both Northern Piedmont Electric and Virginia Electric were willing to

consider a radical change for their business operations, which covered 16


A comprehensive study pointed the way to economic benefits for the memberships

of both Cooperatives. By combining operations, the two Cooperatives would

apply costs to a greater number of members and eliminate the need for duplicate

facilities for serving power in the same general area. As a result, the cost of doing

business would be reduced, ensuring the economic viability of the Cooperatives

and reliable delivery of electricity to the region.

For the consolidation to be successful, it

would take member action and regulatory

oversight. The boards of directors of each

Cooperative approved the consolidation,

initiating the approval process. The Virginia

State Corporation Commission, Rural Electric

Administration and National Rural Electric

Cooperative Association added their blessings

to the union. The final step was a vote by the

members of each Cooperative at their respective

annual meetings.

Members vote to consolidate Northern

Piedmont and Virginia Electric into

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.

By voting in person or by proxy, they could support or deny the consolidation.

This led to a large campaign to win the support of the members. With the use

of Rural Living, the Cooperative monthly magazine, mailings, phone calls, and

posters, members were educated as to the advantages of the proposed


The effort of the memberships and employees was successful and the consolidation

was approved at Northern Piedmont Electric Cooperative’s annual meeting on

Aug. 16, 1979 and at Virginia Electric Cooperative’s meeting on Aug. 25,

1979. With approval finally gained, the newly created Rappahannock Electric

Cooperative began business on Jan. 1, 1980.




The Growth of REC

Located between Northern Virginia and Richmond, the newly consolidated

service territory was strategically situated. As people moved from the cities into

the suburban rural counties, the number of people served grew rapidly. At the

same time, sparsely populated localities continued to need service. This blend of

suburban and rural consumers would set REC apart as one of the most unique

electric cooperatives in the nation.

As the two systems integrated, REC set a foundation for the future. Modern

technology would be used to the benefit of both suburban and rural members.

Computers automated processes like reading meters, storing customer information,

monitoring system equipment, and tracking inventory. With the use of computers,

REC would be ready for future growth and changes in the electric industry.

In preparation for future energy needs, REC’s power supplier, Old Dominion Electric

Cooperative (ODEC), entered the power generation business in December

1983 by purchasing an 11.6 percent share of the North Anna Nuclear Power

Station in Louisa, Va. Continuing toward greater energy independence, ODEC

and its member cooperatives broke ground on the Clover Power Station in 1992.

These two milestones signaled that REC and other cooperatives were preparing for

a new electric industry.

To meet the needs of the growing membership, REC created the HomeResources

brand. In addition to traditional utility services such as Outdoor Lighting and

Home Energy Audits, new services were offered, including Budget Billing,

AutoPay, HomeGuard ® , and Individual Outage Notification. These value-added

services proved the Cooperative remained committed to the needs of the


The Future of REC

The vision of rural farmers and businessmen in the late 1930s became a reality:

bringing electricity to those who had been denied service for so long. Over

the past 70 years, they built a system many believed to be impossible. The

determination of rural people who wanted electricity overcame the challenges

of providing electricity. With a cooperative effort, the rural areas surrounding

Caroline and Culpeper developed into viable and economically profitable


The energy industry now faces challenges never before seen. As it did more than

70 years ago, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative will meet them head on and

ensure reliable and competitively-priced electric service for years to come.

The future of REC

247 Industrial Court • Fredericksburg, VA 22408

P.O. Box 7388 • Fredericksburg, VA 22404-7388

(540) 898-8500 • (800) 552-3904 • www.myrec.coop

Archival photos on cover and inside reprinted with permission. © Copyright NRECA and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.

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