Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Chapter 16
Past & Present of Allamakee County, 1913



The Standard Telephone company was incorporated August 15, 1895, for a term of fifty years, with a capital of $25,000, divided into small shares of $5.00 each. This made it possible for many to invest small amounts in the enterprise, making it popular with the people, and its early growth was remarkable. Mr. V. H. Stevens of Waterville was the originator of this corporation, having begun in a small way with a local plant, which proved so successful that he conceived the idea of branching out into a wider field. The result was the perfecting of the above organization, with principal place of business at Waukon, but with Lansing, Postville, New Albin and Decorah capital likewise interested, the first officers elected were: president, V. H. Stevens; Vice-president, Herman Boeckh; secretary, John J. Dunlevy; Treasurer, O. J. Hager; Directors were the above officers ex-offico and J. F. Dougherty, W. O. Bock and Robert Hufschmidt.

This is not intended as a detailed history of this corporation, but only an outline of its more important and patent transactions.

For the first few years, after the putting into operation of the first simply constructed lines, the company was able to pay good dividends, thus increasing its popularity and necessitating increased construction. It apparently continued to prosper, and Mr. Stevens continued as manager for some eight or ten years, during which time the capital was increased three times, viz: January 12, 1899, to $50,000; January 8, 1900 to $100,000; and January 6, 1902 to $200,000.

But injudicious expenditure of capital, loss of business on account of the organization of farm telephone companies, increased cost of operating and maintenance, the necessity for expending more and more capital to improve and rebuild the system, and other causes, has so decreased the revenues that later the company passed its first dividend.

January 1, 1904, Mr. Ellison Orr was employed as general superintendent and has proven an efficient manager, as shown by the official reports on file in his office. The cheaply and hastily constructed lines and exchanges first built were soon found to be inadequate for the business of the company, and besides were beginning to go down from natural decay.

Since Mr. Orr has had charge of the business the entire net revenues after the payment of general, operating and maintenance expenses, have been expended in entirely rebuilding the toll lines, exchanges and farm lines belonging to the company, which when completed will provide adequate construction for giving service equal to the best.

On April 9, 1907, a mortgage and deed of trust was executed to B. F. Thomas, trustee, to secure an issue of $50,000 six per cent bonds, due June 1, 1918, the purpose being to refund an old floating indebtedness of $35,000 and provide a fund of $15,000 with which to begin repairing, improving, equipping and extending the lines and town exchanges of the company.

From the report for the year ending December 31, 1912, we glean the following interesting facts:

Capital stock actually paid up, $126,290.00, or 25,258 shares at $5.00.

The company operates in Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette and Winneshiek counties in Iowa, and Houston and Fillmore in Minnesota, with lines across the Mississippi to La Crosse and De Soto. The gross receipts for the year are given as $48,281.51; general, operating, maintenance and all other expenses as $33,571.56; three-fourths of which amounts were in Iowa. The difference or net revenue was expended in rebuilding.

The company has 190 miles of toll lines in Iowa and 88 miles in Minnesota. The total miles of pole lines is given as 528, of which 278 is toll line as stated above, the remainder being in exchanges and farm lines. Number of instruments on town exchanges in Iowa, 1,472; on rural or farm lines, 717. The number in the principal town exchanges being as follows; Decorah, 618; Waukon, 471; Elkader, 216; Garnavillo, 141; Monona, 148; Lansing, 134; Guttenburg, 112; the foregoing figures include farm phones; and Caledonia, 225; and Preston, 240; no farm phones included.

Total number of phones in use December 31, 1912, in Iowa 2,363; in Minnesota, 491; total, 2,854; an increase of 178 during the year. Total valuation of all fixed properties, $106,164.93.

About seventy-five employees are carried on the company’s pay rolls, including thirty-six salaried operators and local managers, twenty station operators, five trouble-men, two district managers, two general office employees, five to twelve in construction gang, with foreman; and superintendent.

Although it is generally understood that a controlling amount of stock is now owned by outside parties, the affairs of the Standard Telephone Company are carried on entirely independent of any other concern, the present officers being residents of this county, as follows: President, M.W. Eaton; Vice-President (vacant); Secretary, Ellison Orr; Treasurer, O. J. Hager; Directors, W. T. Gilchrist, Matt Heiser, P. S. Narum, Henry Luhman.

The mileage in Allamakee county and valuation for assessment are fixed by the Board of Supervisors as follows: Mileage, 148.25; valuation, $43 per mile.

Other telephone companies operating in Allamakee county, with their mileage and valuation as fixed by the Board of Supervisors in 1911, are as follows:

Iowa Telephone Company, 42.25 miles, in Post, Ludlow, Union Prairie, Makee French Creek and Union City; Valuation, $100 per mile.

Eitzen and New Albin Telephone Company, 19 miles, in Union city and Iowa townships; $16 per mile.

Ludlow Telephone Company, 60 miles, in Union Prairie and Ludlow; $16.

Luana-Monona Farmers’ Telephone Company, 6 miles, in Linton, at $11.

Paint Creek Farmers’ Telephone Company, 202.75 miles, in Center, Fairview, French Creek, Jefferson, Makee, Linton, Lafayette, Lansing, Paint Creek and Taylor townships, at $16 per mile.

Union Prairie Telephone Company, 17.25 miles, at $12.

Highland Northeastern Telephone Company, .60 of one mile in Waterloo, at $12.

Bear Creek Private Telephone Company, 6 miles, in Waterloo, at $12.

Bergen Farmers’ Telephone Company, 5 miles, in waterloo, at $12.

Farmers’ Mutual Telephone Company, 33 miles, in Post and Franklin, at $12 per mile.

Frankville and Postville Telephone Company, 12 miles, in Post, at $12.

Glenwood Farmers’ Telephone Company, 12 miles, in Union Prairie and city of Waukon, at $12.

Winnebago and Jefferson Telephone Company, one-half mile in Iowa township, at $20.

Harmony Telephone Association, 11.50 miles, in Union City, at $11.

Iowa River Farmers’ Telephone Company, 18 miles, in Union City and Iowa townships, at $10 per mile.

Henderson Prairie Farmers’ Mutual Telephone Company, one mile, in Post township, at $16.

New Albin and Sand Cove Telephone Company, 11 miles, in Lansing and Iowa townships, at $20.

New Albin and Irish Hollow Telephone Company, 8 miles, in Iowa, at $12.

Nordness Telephone Company, 14 miles, in Ludlow and Post, at $12.

Pleasant ridge Telephone Company, 2 miles, in Post, at $14.

Sattre Telephone Company, 1 mile, in Hanover, at $12.

State Line Mutual Telephone Company, 6.50 miles in Union City and Waterloo, at $12.

South Harmony Telephone Company, 7.75 miles, in Union City, at $10.

North Ridge and Jefferson Telephone Company, one-fourth mile in Iowa, at $160 per mile.

Patterson Creek Telephone Company, 11 miles, in Hanover, Union Prairie and Makee townships, at $10.

Silver Creek Farmers’ Telephone Company, 8 miles, in French Creek and Makee, at $10.

Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway
Dubuque Division has 35.81 miles of line in Allamakee county, along the entire eastern border, built in 1872, assessed valuation $7,000 per mile.

Waukon Branch, 22.81 miles, at $3,000 per mile.

Iowa and Dakota Division has but 4.02 miles in this county, assessed at $8,300 per

Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway
Has but 1.61 miles, in Post township, assessed at $4.200 per mile.

United States Express Company
Operates on this small mileage of the C., R. I. & P., and is assessed at $35 per mile.

Wells, Fargo & Co. Express
Operates in this county over the lines of the C., M. & St. P. Ry., 62.64 miles, and is assessed at $35 per mile.

Western Union Telegraph Company
Covers all rail lines in the county, and is assessed 64.59 miles, at $80 per mile.

Upper Iowa Power Company
On March 28, 1896, the City Council of Waukon granted to Charles F. Speed a franchise for the construction and operation of an electric light and power plant in Waukon, and at a special election held April 21, 1896, the action of the council was sustained. Mr. Speed was acting in the interest of Messrs. Clark W. Helmus W. and Mackey J. Thompson of La Crosse, Wisconsin, by whom he was then employed as manager of the lighting plant at McGregor, Iowa.

In casting about for some one of experience in the electrical field who would become financially interested with them and erect and operate the plant, the Thompson Brothers were directed by a mutual friend to Burtis & Howard, electrical contractors of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who were in the business of constructing municipal lighting plants and who having previously looked over both Waukon and Decorah, with a view to securing franchises in these towns, took up with their proposition and joined them in the organization of the Waukon electric Light Company in May, with Clark W. Thompson, President and Treasurer, W. H. Burtis, Vice-President, Helmus W. Thompson, Secretary, and M. S. Howard, Superintendent. Early in June active operations were begun on the construction of a steam plant near the depot and the lines for distributing the current, and the plant was completed and put in service September 21, 1896 (first night of the County Fair).

In September, 1896, the city of Decorah granted a franchise to Burtis & Howard, and the Decorah Electric Light Company was organized, W. H. Burtis being made president and Manager, M. S. Howard, Vice-President and treasurer, and H. L. Tanner, Secretary, and a light and power plant constructed which was put into operation in February, 1897.

The matter of water power from the Upper Iowa or Oneota river was given some consideration at this time and a visit was made in January, 1897, to a power site in Winneshiek county on the Frank Drew farm near the Winneshiek and Allamakee county line, a site which has since been developed, the plant at that point being known as Power Plant No. 1. The project did not appear feasible at that time, however, and nothing further was done until October, 1903, when a systematic study of the river was begun with a view to determining the minimum flow and normal flow. By 1905 the business in both towns had increased to such an extent as to tax the capacity of the existing steam plants and it seemed advisable to construct a hydro-electric plant and transmission system to supply the needed power, rather than to install additional steam machinery. Negotiations were therefore begun looking to the consolidations of the Waukon Electric Light Company and the Decorah Electric Light Company, and the consolidation was consummated in June, 1906, under the name Upper Iowa Power Company, with the principal office at Decorah, and the officers of the company were W. H. Burtis, President and manager; M. S. Howard, Vice-president and Treasurer, and J. H. Duncan, Secretary.

In the meantime surveys had been made and a power site seven miles below Decorah on the James Lannon farm in Winneshiek county, a few hundred feet up the river from the point where the abandoned grade of the Waukon and Mississippi Railway, between Waukon and Decorah, crossed the river, was selected, and plans were prepared by a Cleveland engineering firm for a dam and power plant at this point on which work was begun early in May, 1906. The work on this dam and power plant and the transmission line to Decorah was completed in the latter part of March, 1907, and was only awaiting the completion of the sub-station at Decorah to begin supplying that place with power, when on march 24th, a beautiful spring Sunday, the dam was undermined and destroyed. The failure occurred when the river was at its normal stage, and was due to faulty design by the engineers who planned the work, the foundations not having been carried to sufficient depth to prevent undermining.

The dam and power house were completely wrecked but the machinery was only slightly injured and the work of removing it was begun immediately.

Undismayed by the destruction of this dam, the company, at once, began preparations for the construction of another. During the following summer a survey was made of the site at the mouth of Coon creek on the Frank Drew farm, four miles further down the river, which has been referred to earlier in this article, and the site was purchased and flowage rights obtained for a dam twenty-five feet high. In the winter and spring of 1908 plans were prepared by the Arnold Company of Chicago for a twenty-five foot dam and power plant at this point and the contract for the construction was let to Rich and Carlson of Chicago. Work on the dam and power plant was commenced about the first of May by the contractors and about the same time the power company began extending their transmission line from the old to the new dam site and on to Waukon, and the system was completed and put into operation on February 19, 1909.

Previous to this time the electric light service in Waukon had been limited to the hours between dusk and midnight, except that in the winter months current was supplied also from 5 A. M. till daylight, but the service now was made continuous throughout the twenty-four hours for light, heat and power, and electric power rapidly supplanted steam and gasoline wherever power was used.

In 1910, a Franchise and contracts for street lighting and pumping water were granted by the town of Postville and in the fall of the same year a transmission line was built from Postville north to the Waukon transmission line connecting with that line at a point five and one-half miles west of Waukon. The transmission lines and the distribution lines in the town were completed and the current turned on in march, 1910.

During the summer of 1910 the transmission line was also extended from Waukon to the iron mines three miles northeast to supply power for the operation of the reduction plant that was being installed.

On April 7, 1911, a franchise and contracts were secured at Lansing and the Lansing electric light plant was purchased, and during the summer and fall the distribution system was reconstructed and the transmission line was extended from the iron mines to that city. This work was completed about November 1, 1911.

As it had become apparent that more power than one dam could supply would soon be needed, preparations were made for the construction of a new power plant near the site of the one that was destroyed in 1907, and in September, 1911, work was begun on this plant, which was completed and put in operation December 1, 1912, and is known as Power Plant No. 2.

In September, 1912, the Cresco electric lighting system was taken over and work was at once begun on the extension of the transmission lines from Decorah, and the weather being very favorable the work was carried on throughout the winter, and was completed and the current turned on, making the fifth city to receive its power from the two dams on the Upper Iowa river.

A recent issue of the Popular Electricity Magazine contains the following additional facts of interest as to this plant:

Five Taintor gates, ten feet wide and twenty feet high, operated by an electric hoist and two spillways, one forty feet and other one hundred feet wide, control these flood waters. The operator at danger times keeps his ear close to the telephone and at the first warning lowers the water in the pond. The dam, with an effective head of twenty-seven feet when the pond is full, is the highest in Iowa, barring the great structure at Keokuk.

Sufficient electricity was generated by the plant to supply quite an area. The demand for the current grew as the plant tested out a success and last year the company found it feasible to enlarge its capacity by putting in a second dam and power plant. The work was completed in January and interesting developments are rapidly following. From an engineering standpoint, the two plants together form probably the most complete small hydro-electric development in the central states. From a practical point of view the system is unique.

The transmission lines have been strung on thirty-foot cedar poles along the public roads and private right-of-way through the fields for seventy-seven miles. Over these lines the current is now flowing up from the Upper Iowa into three counties. On the way it is supplying the five leading towns, Decorah, Postville, Cresco, Waukon, and Lansing, with both light and power. Iron mines near Waukon button factories at Lansing, clay works at Postville and several minor industries are using the current and further manufacturing development is indicated.

Between these larger towns quite a number of villages too small to support a steam plant are supplied with electricity. The best and most significant feature of the system, however, is the bringing of electricity into rural life. Several hundred farms are adjacent to the lines. All that is necessary for a farmer to do is to pay for a transformer, lightning arrester and the wiring, and then at the same rate as town customers he may light barns and house and install motors to pump the water, grind the feed, separate the cream, do the family washing and a score of other things. New as the system is, already quite a number of farmers have taken advantage of the great convenience which has been brought to their doors.

~transcribed by Lisa Henry

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