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
THE NEED FOR ELECTRICITY
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,
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.
FARMERS AND BUSINESSMEN UNITE
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
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
meter is set at the home
of Ed Utz; T.A. Jeffries
was Northern Piedmont’s
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
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 COOPERATIVE FUTURE
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.