If it wasn't written down, it didn't happen ...

Electricity for the Whole Island

by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005


In 1921, the Heights Pier was the transportation center for the Island. In addition to the ferry to Greenport, large steamers docked to move passengers from the East End to New York and New England. Note the beach Pavilion and float. This is what it looked like in 1922 when electricity came to Shelter Island.

    In 1920 the Shelter Island and Greenport Ferry Company announced that it was building a new double ended ferry to replace the Menantic. The people of the Town of Shelter Island wanted the new ferry to run year-round and for eight months of the year from a slip that the Town would build at the end of the State Road in Dering Harbor. Howard E. Raymond, who was the president of the Ferry Company, wanted to do just that. If the Town would build and maintain the slip, the Ferry Company would use it. However, it took two years to negotiate terms acceptable to both the Town and the Ferry Company. He knew why it had been so difficult: there was no trust. He set out to repair the rift as he focused on bringing electricity to the Island.
    In early October 1920, C. Pliny Brigham, vice chairman of the Electric Light Committee, had appeared before the Town Board requesting the electricity  franchise for the Shelter Island Holding Company. At a special meeting, the Town Board approved the franchise based on a draft submitted by Frederick Tasker, the Town attorney, which was sent to the Chairman of the Electric Light Committee, Mr. C. D. Wood.
    On January 4, 1921, at a regular meeting, the Town Board agreed to grant the franchise to the Shelter Island Electric Light Company as soon as they had made arrangements with the Greenport Electric Light Company.
    It didn’t happen.
    Enter Mr. Raymond. He knew he could lend his expertise, but the people whom he chose for the board of the company he would create would be local men. Men the Town Board would respect. And listen to.
    As an employee and finally as vice chairman of the B. F. Goodrich Company, he had created companies all over the world. He could do it on the Island as well. He selected officers who meet his requirements.
    The Board of Directors included: Charles A. Angell, a board member of the Heights Securities Corporation; Charles S. Burns, a local Justice of the Peace; Thomas M. Burns, a local builder who had built the Yacht Club in 1893; Clifford Young Clark, owner of the South Ferry; Thomas D. Green, a Heights resident who in 1923 would become the president of the Hotel Committee of the Heights Association; Charles H. Otis, a New York attorney and treasurer of the Heights Securities Corporation; Mr. Raymond; George B. Wells, boat captain for Artemas Ward; and David Harries Young, Supervisor from 1906 to 1913, owner of the general store on what is now Bridge Street. All board members served without remuneration, but as a service to the community. Mr. Raymond served as president, Mr. Clark as vice president, and Mr. Young as secretary/treasurer.
    On March 18, 1922 an application for a franchise for the Shelter Island Light and Power Company was received by the Town Board to establish an electric lighting system for the Town of Shelter Island. A committee, consisting of the Justices of the Peace, Daniel W. Dickerson, Charles S. Burns, and Everett Tuthill, and the Superintendent of Highways, Scudder Smith, “was appointed to consult with Lawyer Tasker and obtain his opinion on the proposed franchise,” and the secretary was instructed to write to the secretary of the Company “and request the release of those subscribers or stockholders who are members of the Town Board so that they may be free to act upon the proposed franchise.” Elizabeth Congdon, had been elected Town Clerk in November 1921, replacing Edgar P. Baldwin.
    At a special meeting of the Town Board on March 21, it debated certain amendments to the franchise as recommended by Mr. Tasker, and voted to submit them to the Company. On March 27, Mr. Raymond and Mr. Young appeared before the Town Board, explained the “purposes of the company and the working of the system,” and the franchise was granted.
    Throughout the Spring and Summer of 1922, the Suffolk Times tracked the progress in bringing electricity to the Island.
    On March 24, it reported that “Dr. Piersol, of Philadelphia, who recently purchased the property owned by Mrs. Farlow, situated on the corner of Winthrop and North Ferry Road, is making a number of changes. A garage is in course of construction, also a sleeping porch over the west piazza, and the house is being wired.”
    It reported on April 7 that Thomas T. Young (son of David Harries Young) had “accepted the position of Superintendent of the Shelter Island Electric Light & Power Co., to take effect April 15th and will engage in the electrical contracting business for himself.” The same issue of the paper reported that Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Young  have moved to the Island from East Hampton.  “Mr. Young is an expert electrician, and will have charge of the electric lighting of the Island.”
    On April 14, it reported, “Shelter Island residents are to be served with electricity for light, heat and power under an application to the Public Service Commission recently by the Shelter Island Light & Power Company, Inc., for permission to construct an electric lighting plant and for approval for a local franchise.”
    It reported on May 12 that the Public Service Commission on Friday had  approved the application for a franchise.
    On May 26, it noted that the trees had been trimmed on Grand Avenue so that they would not interfere “with the wires for the electric lighting.”
    The paper reported on June 6 that “the electric cable was laid Saturday morning between Greenport and Shelter Island. Everything looks favorable now for electric service in a very short time.”
    While the lights were being turned on on the Island, the July 28 issue of the Suffolk Times reported, “Once a week from the Casino, a hydroplane, with an able and careful pilot, leaves for a flight accompanied by several passengers. The trip takes fifteen minutes and travels one hundred and twenty miles an hour. Upon returning the passengers are enthusiastic and advise others to go and view a most spectacular picture and experiences undreamed of.”
    In the annual report for the Heights Association for 1922 through June 1923, Mr. Raymond wrote: “We have emerged from the darkness. We are ranked among the first class resorts. We are no longer a place people think of going -- they wish to. Houses have been sold where stagnation was present. Land is being purchased. Inquiry is made regarding our holdings. And the moving reason -- electric lighting. This achievement was basic and insofar as we have anything to do with it -- by our subscriptions to light company stock and by administration activity -- we have reason to record it as outstanding among all other things done to advance our summer home.”
    In the first six months of operation, July through December 1922, the Company earned $2,522.07. By the end of the first full year of operation, the Company had 182 customers and had earned $8,364.27. The Heights had the most customers, 95. The State Road had 48, Menantic Road to Daniel Lord Road (now Smith Street) 13, Winthrop Road 9, the West Neck Section, including the Shelter Island House, 9, and the Center 8. Total sales in 1924 were $12,226.18. There were now 240 customers, 125 in the Heights. The State Road had 50, Menantic Road 19, Winthrop Road 13, West Neck 10, the Center 8, and Coecles Harbor 14. The Village of Dering Harbor was also a customer and distributed electricity to its residents.
    In his report for 1923, Mr. Raymond wrote: “The company as a whole is now firmly established, and while business from a few sections must carry those unprofitable, we are satisfied to know that we can serve all collectively without any risk to the company as a whole.” Total assets of the Company were $36,480.34.
    Sources for this story are Town Board Minutes, the Suffolk Times, and the annual reports of the Shelter Island Power and Light Company and the Shelter Island Securities Corporation in the archives of the Shelter Island Historical Society.
    Other Island historical research can be viewed at www.shelter-island.org. Click on the Island History Revisited button.