The Heritage of Daniel Haston


The Caney Fork of the Cumberland
Light & Power Companies - Pages 63-66
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Light & Power Companies in the Area Near Great Falls Power House

Sparta Light & Power Company
Stanton Dibrell and his associates, who organized the Sparta Light & Power Co., selected a site in Sparta on the Calfkiller River for a hydroelectric power plant, just above the highway bridge on Hwy. 70 and not much over a block from the Public Square.

In 1902 they purchased a 60 kilowatt single-phase generator from the Fayetteville Steam Plant, a water wheel from Rome, Georgia, and an American Ball steam engine from the old Read House in Chattanooga.  The latter was used for standby service as the stream flow in the Calfkiller was very small in dry weather.  The equipment was installed in an old mill by G.B. (Bun) Shawyer, who also was the first operator.

Shawyer said that the equipment was all erected in accordance with the blue prints that came with it but it just would not work.  He tore out all the wiring, worked all night using his own ideas, and next morning the street lights in Sparta were burning.  Mr. Shawyer had worked for Mr. Walling at the old steam plant in McMinnville.  He later was in charge of all water and ice plants with the Tennessee Electric Power Co.

The first plant burned in 1907.  In 1909 the Anderson and Tubb Power Company bought out the old company and built a new modern plant one mile downstream.  A 6-foot concrete dam was built at the site of the old Harriet Iron Works.  It diverted the river into an open flume which carried the water a quarter of a mile downstream to a new power house.  The latter was about opposite the hillside site of a former cotton mill.  This layout took advantage of the Falls of the Calfkiller.  The plant operated till the Tennessee Electric Power Co. sold out.  Slag piles from the old iron works were still visible at the dam site in the 1930's.  The plant together with the Sparta distribution system was purchased by TEPCo. in January, 1925.  The capacity of the plant was 180 kw.

The reproduction cost in January, 1927 was $115,944 which included land at $10,000.  The average annual generation (1925-29) was 834,800 kw-hr.

Walling Light & Power Company
Mr. J. Walling organized the Walling Light & Power Company in McMinnville prior to 1900.  Power was first supplied for street lights and some business houses from dark to about 10 P.M. by a small steam plant.  It was not till late in 1907 that hydroelectric power was available.

The first plant was a make-shift affair.  A generator was installed in the Falcon Flour Mill on the left bank of the Barren Fork River.  It was used for a few months until a new plant was completed on the right bank of the river.  A 200 kilowatt, horizontal generator was installed which with an enlarged steam plant on the left bank served the town until 1923.  A new modern plant with a 220 kilowatt vertical unit was placed in operation on the left bank of the river.

The Tennessee Electric Power Co. purchased Mr. Walling's interests in 1926 and continued operations but largely on a standby basis after a transmission line was built from Rock Island to McMinnville.

McMinnville Hydro Plant - McMinnville, TN

McMinnville Hydro Plant Map

The Good Old Days

Note:  The following was taken from "System Control News" for February 1, 1973 published by the Power Dispatching Branch of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In our "Looking Back" to the days of the small hydro plants we have found the operators to be working
12-hour shifts.  These long hours were not limited to operators.  The paragraph below is quoted from
a talk by Arthur W. Crouch, "SideLights on the History of the Tennessee Electric Power Company,"
February 28, 1940.

Mr. Shawyer's work in the industry began in 1894. He installed the equipment in the original Sparta
Hydro Plant in 1902, and served as its first operator. In 1934, he is recorded as being the Superintendent of Maintenance for the water and ice plants that were
operated by TEPCo.

"The operation of the distribution system was comparatively simple in the good old days.  'Bun' Shawyer used to operate the entire town of McMinnville.  He arose about 5:00 in the morning, helped with the chores and then started on his daily round.  He rode a bicycle with a basket of tools in front, a box of fittings behind, a reel of wire on the handle bars, and a ladder over his shoulder.  He trimmed street lights, wired houses, installed meters and made necessary extensions.  About 4:00 in the afternoon he got a bite to eat and hurried down to the steam plant where he fired boilers until about 10:00 at night.  The work was seven days ... not five."


The pages in the history of hydro-electric development in Tennessee have been turning rapidly.  By 1930 many of the small plants had been taken out of service and by 1940 practically all small plants, both hydro, steam and oil had ceased operations and many had been dismantled.  Even a number of the small dams had been removed.  They are now only memories.  It is therefore fitting that we should acknowledge and give full credit to those pioneers of the industry, promoters and operators, many of whose names are now unknown.

They had the courage, faith and daring to undertake the development of electricity by water power; they struggled with and conquered many new problems; though often ridiculed by their fellow men and harassed by the floods and storms of nature, they had the perseverance and strength to push forward in establishing an industry which has brought untold benefits to factory, farm and fireside throughout the length and breadth of Tennessee.

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