There are undoubtedly stories to be told on all these topics (the Artesian Water Company, for example, was founded by a MCH family), but right now we will focus on electricity. More specifically, on a forgotten, early power provider, the White Clay Creek Supply Company (WCCSC), and one particular installation of theirs. If you don't remember writing any checks to them, it's understandable -- I'm pretty confident in saying that WCCSC was gone long before you were around. It wasn't in operation for very long, but it's a neat insight into the early days of suburban utilities. It was also the final heir to an old mill seat.
If you're reading this in the northern Delaware area, it's likely that your current (no pun intended) electric company is very large -- it covers parts of several states and is owned by an even larger corporation. A hundred plus years ago, it was a different story. The largest power supplier in the area was actually the trolley company. By the early days of the 20th Century, urban electric trolley lines had been around for a decade or more, and their suburban counterparts were beginning to radiate out from the cities. The trolley companies produced their own power for the trolleys, and also sold electricity to the burgeoning consumer market. Initially it was confined to the larger cities, but over time worked its way to smaller towns and, ultimately, rural areas.
In those early days, before electricity production was completely consolidated into large power companies, there was briefly room for smaller companies to try to make headway. In some ways, it reminds me of the situation with the internet in the mid 1990's. Sure, many people had AOL, but there were also a lot of small internet service providers around, too. The window was brief, though, before the phone and cable companies gobbled up the market. It was in the equivalent of this time-frame that the WCCSC was born, lived, and died.
It began in May 1902, when the WCCSC was chartered to "acquire mines, quarries and mining rights and to develop the same". It's hard to tell whether this was a legal sleight of hand or if they truly decided to change directions, because in August of that same year, Philadelphian Elisha Meloney purchased the Tweed Mill north of Newark. Maloney was the president of WCCSC, and he sold the property to it for the purpose of converting it into an electrical plant. Interestingly, as the article below notes, Tweed's Mill was at the time being used as a flint mill. Perhaps that was the connection to the original mining and quarrying charter?
|Maloney buys Tweed's Mill|
(Evening Journal -- Aug 30, 1902)
|Evening Journal -- May 9, 1903|
|News Journal -- Aug 18, 1903|
|Evening Journal -- June 1, 1910|
|News Journal -- July 29, 1911|
A modern, concrete arch bridge was built in 1911, and I think that's what the photograph is documenting. As you can see, there's still a slight turn on the approach, but it does angle across the creek. This is one of the clues as to which direction we're looking in the shot. Judging from the angle, I'm pretty confident that we're on the south (towards Newark) side looking northeast. In terms of the modern road, we'd be looking eastbound, with Newark behind us. In respect to having any hopes of finding remnants of the power plant, this is very unfortunate. In 1954, DelDOT replaced the 1911 bridge with a much larger, four-lane bridge. They straightened out the road even further, and positioned the new span on the west side of the old one -- right where the plant was.
The photos above show the 1954 bridge under construction and newly completed. The first shot is in the same direction as the old power plant photo, the "After" photo is looking west towards Newark. You can see the remains of the old bridge abutments to the left in the bottom picture. The electric plant would have stood right where the eastern approach is to the new bridge. Quite obviously, the plant was long gone by the start of construction in '54. When exactly it ceased operation, I'm not sure...But I have at least one clue to narrow it down.
|Evening Journal -- August 6, 1920|
The article above about the death of an electrician working at the plant appeared in the Evening Journal in August 1920. The plant was obviously still there then, but the wording of the piece makes me think it was on the way out. I could be reading it wrong, but it states that the electricity for Newark is "brought in through the Roseville and local plants." "Through", not "from". To me, it makes it sound like the plant was more of a substation than an electric-generating plant by that point. And if you read the article, there's one name that might be unfamiliar to you -- the unfortunate electrician's employer, the Wilmington and Philadelphia Traction Company.
The Wilmington and Philadelphia Traction Company (WPTC) was, at the time, the primary trolley company in northern New Castle County. It had a habit of gobbling up smaller companies, including, a few years earlier, the Peoples Railway and Brandywine Springs Amusement Park to which it ran. Around 1913, WPTC had purchased the Chester County Electric Company, which had bought out the White Clay Creek Supply Co. sometime before 1911. The 1911 date comes from the article below, which ran on August 28th of that year. (This is the last article, I promise.)
If nothing else, we get a feel for how dangerous electrical work was in the early days. In the grand scheme of things, the Roseville Electric Plant was not around for very long -- probably little more than 20 years, perhaps a bit longer. Its original owner, the White Clay Creek Supply Company, was around for far less. Again I'm drawn back to the analogy of the early days of the internet in the 1990's. We started with lots of small providers connected by old telephone technology. Few expected it to blossom so quickly, as the electric market had done 90-odd years before. Small, water-powered electric mills like Roseville soon became as obsolete as a 56k modem. The wonderful photograph at the top of the page is but a small reminder of the early entrepreneurial days of the electric power industry.