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When Singing River Electric was organized on August 31, 1938, most of southeast Mississippi was harnessed to a mule, a water bucket and a coal-oil lamp. However, neighbors came together and made the choice to provide their own electricity through a cooperative form of business. Thanks to a group of local citizens who gathered at the George County Courthouse, an electric cooperative was formed. Named for the Pascagoula River, Singing River Electric Power Association began bringing light to rural people.
Today, we continue the tradition of dedicated and responsive service. Singing River Electric Power Association is an electric distribution cooperative serving over 70,500 members in southeast Mississippi. We maintain nearly 7,000 miles of line in Jackson, George, Greene, Harrison, Perry, Stone and Wayne counties in Mississippi as well as Mobile and Washington counties in Alabama. Our headquarters is located in Lucedale, with branch offices in Gautier and Sand Hill. Our mission is to distribute electric energy and provide services that improve the quality of life of the members and communities we serve. Singing River Electric is a private, not-for-profit organization, locally owned and managed.
“Early Years: 1938-1948”
And then there was light – electric light. The magical pull of a chain or flick of a switch illuminated country homes and rural folks found their way out of the dark.
Over Sixty-five years ago Singing River Electric Power Association initiated a drive to deliver its patrons in southeastern Mississippi from a tough and backbreaking way of life into a modern world.
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1880. However 53 years later, only 10.9 percent of America’s farms had electricity.
During the 1920s and 1930s when America was gripped by the Great Depression, some electric companies extended their power lines into rural areas for a price that ranged from $2,000 to $3,000 per mile. In addition to the line costs, the power companies charged the farmer a higher usage fee than city residents.
As part of his cure for the depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt created in 1935 the Rural Electrification Administration. It originally served as an unemployment relief program for building lines. Three months after its inception Roosevelt transformed it into an organization that offered to loan money to power companies for building power lines across rural America. However, power companies failed to seize the opportunity for financial aid to take electricity to outlying areas.
The next year, 1936, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act that allowed residents to form their own non-profit groups to get financial assistance for building lines.
In 1938 residents in what is now served by Singing River Electric Power Association took charge of bringing power to the people.
It began at a meeting on August 31, 1938 at 9 a.m. in the George County Courthouse in Lucedale. Newspapers publicized notice of the meeting, which called for the attendance of all citizens interested in the organization of a Rural Electrification Project that would borrow government money to finance the construction of electric lines. The assembly elected to have three representatives from George County, two from Jackson County and two from Greene County.
In June 1940 the board voted to increase its membership to at least nine to sufficiently represent the district. Nine members still comprise that entity. At every annual meeting the co-op membership elects one director from each of the three counties.
In September 1938 the incorporators named the corporation Singing River Electric Power Association and applied through Roosevelt’s program for a $300,000 loan to build 300 miles of line.
To qualify for the REA loan, the association had to register three members per mile of line to be built. Membership fees cost $5 per house. Solicitors earned $5 per day and three cents per mile. The loan did not cover payment for rights of way and residents were asked to donate easements.
At that time, homeowners paid between $16 and $30 to have their homes wired.
Singing River Electric Energizes First Lines
Sixteen months after that first organizational meeting in the George County Courthouse, electric lights beamed in farm homes in Greene County.
Singing River Electric Power Association energized 25.54 miles of line from McLain towards Neely and then to Merrill on Dec. 5, 1939. Electricity was supplied from a substation in McLain.
The George County Times that week reported the event as a “red letter day in the history of Singing River Electric.”
Ben DeShazo, president of the board of directors, and L.C. Winterton, project engineer, threw the switches for electric service. The ceremonial event included a motorcade. Attendants drove from McLain to Neely for refreshments and then back to McLain for a luncheon at Coon’s Café and for more refreshments at the McLain substation. Fifty homes were lighted that first month and Singing River Electric Power Association sold 691 kilowatts for $58.05. Mississippi Power charged SREPA $75 for the electricity.
By the end of 1941, Singing River served 1,135 consumers along 427 miles of line. Line construction had ceased because of material scarcity and labor shortages due to the start of World War II. Most consumers added during the war were connected along existing lines. By the end of 1945, membership had increased to 1,877 consumers along 522 miles of line. Lines were rebuilt to accommodate the expected load from the rapid connection of new consumers.
During its first decade, SREPA had three managers. A.P. (Percy) Lavallet, Fred S. Truax and Joe Beverly each served brief periods. By the time SREPA celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1948 it had 5,296 consumers, 1,561 miles of line, 36 employees and a new manager, Tim Dudley.
(Above “Early Years” excerpt used by permission from Nancy Jo Maples.)