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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Electricity in Susanville

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

A picture postcard of the first county hospital at Miller’s crossing on the Susan River with the flume and Branham’s power plant is visible on the left side of the photo.

by Susan Couso

At the end of the 19th century, electricity was still quite mysterious and threatening to most people, especially those in rural areas. It was also terribly expensive. While big cities glowed after dark, Susanville was mostly lit with the subtle warmth of gas lights, and dark was dark!

But many local residents prided themselves as being progressive, and understood that the area could not grow without electrical power.

In the early 1890s, James Anthony built a small power plant to provide the new miracle to Susanville. The generating plant derived its power from the waters of the Susan River, and was located just west of town, at the bottom of Miller Road.

The water was funneled through flumes and wooden pipes to the plant. With the river at its peak flow, about 30 horsepower could be obtained to power up to 40 arc lights. The power was far too expensive for domestic use, and so, was meant only for business establishments.

The arc lamps were so large and noisy that they never would have worked in the home. Probably no more than 10 or 15 lamps were ever in use in town at this time.

After Anthony’s inability to make a financial success of the business, he sold it to Alney J. Nourse, Frank Cady’s brother-in-law, in about 1897. Nourse improved the business and acquired quite a few new customers, but sold to James Branham about 1899.

Branham operated the business until September of 1912, when he was found drowned in the little dam which diverted water into flumes for his power plant.

Isaac Knoch then purchased the property from Branham’s heirs, and ran the power plant until he sold to Leon Roy Cady’s Lassen Electric Company, about 1913. The Lassen Electric Company, formed in 1900, was supplying power to private homes from dark to until about one or two in the morning since 1911, but daytime use was still far away.

As the railroad surged towards Westwood, in 1913, the demand for power was high. Lassen Electric’s little 150 kilowatt generator could hardly keep up with the new demands of the community, let alone the demands from the railway construction camps. The company worked to put in new transmission lines and equipment.

In 1920, Cady sold the Lassen Electric Co. to the Red River Lumber Co. of Westwood. They retained the Lassen Electric Co. name and Cady was kept on as the Susanville manager. Business continued to grow, and in 1926, 53 rural homes in the Standish and Litchfield areas were supplied with electricity.

The Lassen Electric Co. was sold to the California Public Utilities Co. in 1930, and the new owners named L. R. Cady as the local manager.

Throughout the early years of electrical service in Lassen County, outages were a common event. People were well stocked with the necessities of life which did not require electricity. Today, outages can be quite a hardship, but we are fortunate to have safe reliable electrical power on a daily basis.

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