More than a Century

Highlights of Middleborough Gas and Electric Department’s 120+year history

Mr. Wilbur standing with one of the first Department vehicles, a Ford Model A Truck

October 28, 1893 - Middleborough ratifies the vote to purchase the Middleborough Gas & Electric Company for $63,000. Happy birthday, Middleborough Gas & Electric Department!

1894 - Middleborough replaces oil streetlights with 108 arc lights, which are lit from dusk to dawn. The street lighting committee writes: We have the best lighted village in the country.” This extravagance ends in 1897 when the town cuts in half the number of all-night lights.

Mr. George Philbrook, first Department General Manager from 1902 to 1945

June 4, 1894 - George A. Philbrook joins the Department’s electric plant at the age of 24. Five years later he becomes its superintendent. In 1902 he is made the general manager, a position he holds for the next 43 years.

1903 - An article in the Middleboro Gazette reports, “The municipal lighting plant came out $15.71 ahead for the past year. This is considered a good showing and the residents of Middleborough have occasion to feel thankful that the business will soon be on a thoroughly paying basis.”

Downtown Four Corners before the new White Way street lamps and underground wiring in 1928

1906 - Both gas and electric plants are stretched to capacity to meet growing customer demand. A committee is formed to investigate both plant operations and decide whether to improve them or close them down. The committee recommends improvement. They also recommend electricity for “day service.” Until this time the electric plant had been run only at night for lighting.

Downtown Four Corners after the White Way street lamps were installed in 1928

1911 - The Taunton Gas Company (now Bay State) offers to serve Middleborough customers under an exclusive franchise. At the April 3 Town Meeting, voters decide to keep their own gas operation and improve the plant. A gift of $15,000 from the Pierce Trustees helps the Department expand the plant’s capacity and mains. With reliable equipment and added customers, the gas plant is profitable for the first time.

Electric Crew about 1950

March 1913 - Town Meeting voters, still arguing the benefits of municipal ownership, appoint a committee to invite an offer from the Edison Illuminating Company of Brockton to buy the light plant. By April, the Edison Company declines the invitation.

Summer 1916 - The Department begins electric service to Lakeville residents, running a line down Main Street to the Lakeville Town House and picking up customers on Vaughn and Bridge Streets along the way.

Work on the pole about 1950

November 1916 - The Department connects its lines to the Plymouth Electric Company lines for Middleborough’s first out-of-town supply of electricity. The Department is now able to supply four times the amount it could produce using only the hydroplant.

Summer 1926 - A new gas main connection is made to the Brockton/Taunton Gas Company lines (now Bay State), which increases the Department’s gas supply, allowing more expansion.

1950's Pole installation with visiting town officials - Superintendent Everett Perry on the far left

September 26, 1928 - The Department installs new underground service and White Way streetlights in the Four Corners area. Downtown merchants throw a party to celebrate, attracting a large crowd, including people from neighboring towns. The party includes dancing and vaudeville on Centre Street, a night parade and contests for the best costume and best window display.

1930s - The Great Depression hits. The Department lowers gas rates twice and electric rates four times. A grateful customer writes “…[I] am not broke but badly bent.” The number of gas customers dwindles to 25. But demand for electricity keeps growing. The Department employs WPA workers under Roosevelt’s New Deal to expand both gas and electric service lines.

Inspecting the old gas holder, 1954. The tank would rise and fall with the level of gas inside.

September 1, 1939 - Tremont transmission line is completed. New high tension lines are strung to the Rochester town line to increase power purchased from Plymouth Electric Company and accommodate growing demand.

1940s - World War II breaks out. All gas and electric expansion activity comes to a halt. Streetlights are shielded and the tops of the White Way lights are painted black. Expansion commences in earnest after the war ends, but unfortunately not before Mr. Philbrook passes away. He is succeeded temporarily by Town Manager Roger MacDonald, then by Herman Dyke.

Inspecting the gas piping to the holder, 1954.

1953 - Brockton-Taunton Gas Company offers to buy the gas plant for $100,000. The Board of Selectmen and a Citizens Advisory Committee decide not to sell. Instead, the committee recommends improvements to stop leaks and improve service. The Department eliminates a fee that customers object to. Free gas appliance service is offered.

1948 Gas plant staff (L to R) unknown, Mr. Briggs, John Cordiero, Joseph Brown (Superintendent), Mr. Thayer, Mr. Malenfant

Spring 1954 - Hortonsphere, a round gas holder to store gas for peak use, is completed and quickly becomes a landmark in the town. The Department also installs its propane-air plant for peak and emergency gas use.

Summer 1954 - After an Act of Congress, Middleborough gets its first taste of “natural” gas, piped up from the South and arriving through the Brockton/Taunton Gas Company lines. All customer appliances are adjusted to accommodate the new gas in a sweeping effort by Gas Superintendent Joseph Brown and his crews.

Middleborough Town Hall dressed for Christmas

December 1959 - The Department gives a Christmas Bonus Credit to all residential customers, an unusual act that was noted in a number of newspapers across the country.

Summer 1963 - The Department converts a number of the old White Way streetlights to a Modern Mercury Vapor type, causing a near uprising by customers and downtown merchants. They quickly convert them back.

Department's Philander Washburn House downtown Middleborough

November 9, 1965 - A massive “Northeast Blackout” darkens homes throughout the region for hours. Middleborough is out only 10 minutes thanks to advance purchases from a variety of other power sources. By December 1, a new transmission line tied into the Brockton Edison system supplies power to the South Middleborough and West Grove areas during heavy Christmas use. The same year, a new gas regulator station is completed at Everett Street  to provide more reliable gas service to the ever expanding number of commercial customers.

Hortonsphere at the Gas Plant

September 1, 1966 - The Department connects directly to the Algonquin Transmission Line, eliminating the “middleman” and cutting wholesale gas costs. The Department immediately drops gas rates more than 10 percent and adds several new, large commercial customers, including the Winthrop-Atkins Factory and the new Ocean Spray Cranberry Company plant.

Natural Gas Take Station in South Middleborough

1973 - The energy crisis is in full swing and gas supplies are cut drastically. The Department is ready to deal with the crisis, using its own production plants – Liquid Natural Gas and Propane Air – to serve gas customers with a minimum of inconvenience. Still, on November 8, the Selectmen issue a moratorium on any gas line expansion or new customers. The ban is lifted the next year.

Arrival and installation of the Department's 3rd Transformer at the electric substation

February 26, 1975 - A new substation and 115,000-volt transmission line is energized, marking a new era of modern power supply for the Department. It’s predicted that the new line will supply the area’s electric needs for the next 15 years. Upon the retirement of General Manager Stephen Horbal after 24 years of service, the new substation is named in his honor. By year’s end, the Department takes electricity over its new line directly from generating stations throughout New England – eliminating another “middleman,” Taunton Municipal Light Plant.

March 11, 1982 - A change in the state charter creates a new Board of Commissioners for the Department, separate from the Board of Selectmen.

Stephen S. Horbal electric substation yard

June 1990 - Under the guidance of General Manager John W. Dunfey, the Department completes the final connections to a second 115,000-volt transmission line, doubling capacity and increasing reliability of electric service to area customers. The Department also completes the renovation and expansion of its Liquid Natural Gas operation, increasing reliability and capacity – and saving money on gas purchases.

Oliver Mill Park and Nemasket River in Middleborough

October 28, 1993 - The Department celebrates 100 years of operation and offers heartfelt thanks to all of its customers, employees and friends for the opportunity to serve them.