The Middleborough Gas & Electric Department has a long history serving the communities of Middleborough and Lakeville. Since beginning in 1893, we have supplied electricity to the area for 130 years and are the 6th oldest municipally-owned light plant in Massachusetts. Our Electric Light Plant has long been located at 37 Wareham Street on the bank of Middleborough's historic Nemasket River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Middleborough Center Historic District. MGED would like to thank the Middleborough Historical Commission and Michael Maddigan for contributions to this article.
The Upper Factory Site (right) was first developed in 1762 for the manufacture of iron. The nearby Nemasket River was dammed to power mills for production. Today, the Electric Light Plant occupies the westernmost portion of this map (1-3). In 1813, new technology prompted the creation of the Nemasket Manufacturing Company, which produced iron, shovels, milled lumber, box boards, boxes, flour, meal, and cotton cloth and yarn. The shovel works (4) were destroyed by a fire in 1884 and never rebuilt.
Likewise, the cotton mill (1) was destroyed by a fire in 1877. This opened up the site for future industrial development, including the Electric Light Plant.
In the 1870's and 1880's, Middleborough was lit with natural gas provided by the privately-owned Middleboro Gas Company. The town was dissatisfied with the brightness of the gas lamps and began considering electric street lighting which had recently been adopted in the nearby communities of Taunton, New Bedford, and Fall River.
In 1889, this led the Middleboro Light and Power Company to construct an electric plant at the previous site of the cotton mill at the Upper Factory. Remaining hydro-power equipment from the mill would harness the power of the Nemasket River for the production of electricity.
The plant began operating in 1889 and powered nearly 800 electric street lamps in town. Four years later in October of 1893, the town voted in favor of purchasing the Middleboro Light and Power Company and Wareham Street Plant, making Middleborough the 6th community in Massachusetts to have a municipally-owned lighting plant.
One year later, the Electric Department began selling to private customers in town. This electricity was transported by distribution lines on poles throughout the downtown area.
In 1927, the downtown poles were removed and transmission lines were placed underground to power newer, modern streetlights. Depicted on the right is the celebration of Middleborough's "White Way" - it was a public recognition of the important role that the Municipal Light Plant had in the twentieth-century development of the community.
The increase in town electrification brought industrial and agricultural development and raised living standards by standardizing technologies reliant on electricity - household lighting, refrigeration, electric heating and radio.