Morganton to Have Electric Lights at an Early Day'

That was the headline in local newspaper, The Morganton Herald, on Dec. 3 1891. The Morganton Town Commissioners had finally decided to grant an electric franchise to a local company to build an "electric light plant" in the town. The town eventually had electric lights on the streets within a year.

"So we are to have electric lights ..., and the pedestrian, instead of groping in darkness, as is the case these nights, can without difficulty find his way in any part of the town," the article read. More than 120 years have passed since 1881, and it is hard to imagine life without electricity and lights, and you can be sure that Morganton's residents then were thrilled at the prospect of having electric lights in their town!

The drive to bring electricity to Morganton started more than a year earlier in the spring of 1890. The Morganton Herald reported in April of 1980 that the directors of the Western Asylum were interested in equipping their hospital (now Broughton Hospital) with electric lights if the town would build a plant. That partnership didn't work out, but the desire to have electricity was growing among the residents of Morganton.

The residents started putting pressure on the Town Commissioners to provide electric lights. In May 1890, more than 100 of the Morganton's 1,557 citizens signed and presented a petition to the Town Board of Commissioners asking the Mayor and Town Commissioners to "proceed at once to make arrangements to have a plant established in the town."

Local industries in town were already installing electric plants in their factories for their own use. In the spring of 1891, the Dunavant Cotton Mill in Morganton installed a new 100-lamp electric light plant built by the Edison Electric Company. The Dunavant Cotton Mill building still stands in Morganton. It is located on Fleming Drive behind Rite Aid.

In December 1891, more than a year after the citizen's petition and many editorials in The Morganton Herald calling for an electric plant, the Morganton Town Commissioners granted the Morganton Development Company a franchise to build an electric plant and install lights in Morganton, and in 1899, the Town Commissioners took over the electric plant.

Of course, electric use and electric demand has only grown since 1890. As the residents demanded more power, the City supplied that power. In 1915, the City negotiated its first franchise to purchase electricity from a private power provider, and in 1930 the City signed a contract with Catawba Valley Light and Power Company. Just 10 years later, the City of Morganton signed the first purchase agreement with Duke Power.

Electric demand from local industry and residents continued to grow. In the late 1970s, the City of Morganton and 18 other cities formed the North Carolina Municipal Power Agency Number 1 (NCMPA1) and purchased a portion of the Catawba Nuclear Station located on Lake Wylie in York County, SC, and operated by Duke Energy, to help supply affordable electric power to their customers.

Today, the City of Morganton is one of more than 70 Public Power communities in North Carolina. Public power is municipally-owned and operated electric service. These communities are collectively known as NC Public Power and they serve more than 500,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers.