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Electricity came to Medford, Ashland in late 1890s

OK, smarty pants at SYA, when did Medford and Ashland first get electricity? I'm thinking it must have been early in the 20th century but I have been known to be wrong once, maybe even twice. Here's your chance to shock me with your brightness, puns fully intended.

— T.S., Medford

While acknowledging that puns are the highest form of humor, we still take delight in proving you wrong, T.S.

Indeed, SYA's Electrical History Department showed a spark of life at your question, albeit we quickly unplugged them to keep them from surging and blowing a fuse. Sorry.

Their research determined that Medford was first plugged in — hey, it just slipped out — during September of 1894, thanks to a wood-powered steam plant built on the west bank of Bear Creek near Eighth Street. That information came from a Mail Tribune article published on Feb. 9, 1965, and written by Seth M. Bullis.

Mr. Bullis knew of what he wrote, having worked in the valley's electrical world for three-plus decades. He was the Rogue River division superintendent for the California Oregon Power Co. from 1918 until retiring in 1952. An engineering graduate of Cornell University, he had already built a power plant on Sterling Creek in 1913 to provide power to the Sterling gold mine.

In his 1965 article, he wrote that the first power plant in Medford was built by R.P. Proudfoot, who had contracted with the city to have four arc lamps installed and operating on Main Street by September of 1894. The city paid $10 a month for the service, he noted.

In 1900, the city bought Proudfoot's power plant for $8,400, plus $794 for 133 half-cords of split wood and 178 cords of slabs, he wrote. To protect its investment, the city passed an ordinance the following year to make it unlawful to light any place of assembly with anything other than electric lamps, he added.

The lights in Ashland first came on in early January of 1889, when a two-horse motor powered by a belt attached to the shaft of the mill went online at the Ashland Flouring Mills, he observed.

"Ashland Plaza was lighted for the first time last Friday by a 1,200 candle power arc light suspended in one of the upper doorways of the Ashland Flouring Mills," he wrote, quoting an article in the Ashland Tidings on Jan. 11, 1889.

"The light was a brilliant surprise to most of the spectators," the Tidings reported that day.

A good pun was even illuminating back in the day.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.