By George Lane
Nearly seven decades ago, Talquin Electric Cooperative, Inc. (TEC) came on line and made the night a little brighter
in a large rural portion of the Big Bend. From a humble beginning by a handful of hardworking, dedicated and concerned citizens, TEC was birthed from a dream into a bright, shiny reality -- bringing affordable electricity to the rural folks of Gadsden, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla Counties.
Think of all the ways modern electrical appliances, systems, equipment, and electronics serve you at home and work in your daily life today. Then, try to imagine a time not so long ago when the rural regions of the Big Bend were without electricity. The list of the myriad of ways electricity serves us in our daily lives is staggering. If written down, the list would be blocks long. Before 1942, large portions of Gadsden, Wakulla, and Liberty Counties were without electricity.
It all started back in the 1930’s. In most rural areas like Talquin Country, investor-owned power companies would not build power lines into sparsely populated areas because it was not profitable or economically feasible to do so. President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the need to bring electricity to rural communities and established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) on May 11, 1935. This administration
was, and is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and helped communities form electric cooperatives while providing low interest loans to finance the building of electric lines and other equipment. Talquin Electric Cooperative, Inc. was formed in June and July, 1940 by a group of 200 rural residents who banded together to discuss forming the electric cooperative. They organized at a special meeting in Quincy called by Gadsden County Agent, H. E. Hudson, and Home Demonstration Agent, Miss Elise Laffitte, who explained the ways and means of getting rural electrification extended in Gadsden (and later in adjoining Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla counties). They were assisted by REA Financial Advisor, Harold Clark, who explained the procedures for organizing and funding a cooperative.
Florida Power Corporation (now Progress Energy) was contracted to provide the electricity and a local staff was hired. H. C Bentley was hired as the first Manager; Mrs. Gladys Holley as the Membership Application Recruiter; Miss Eva Smith, the first Office Clerk; Charles Rose, Project Superintendent. McClean Engineering was hired as Project Engineers and Miller-Baxter Company and Westgate Electric Company as the Construction Contractors. The first temporary Board of Directors included: T. B. Fletcher (Greensboro); Marvin W. Miller (Havana); J. Douglas Owens the organizing Secretary-Treasurer. In May,1941, H. F. Waller was hired as TEC’s first Serviceman. Oh yes, according to TEC historical records, the first issue of “The Current” was a progress report mailed to all Members in April, 1941. It would be published monthly beginning in September, 1941. A contest winner, Mrs. O. F. Shepard of Chattahoochee, is credited with furnishing the name. She was awarded a carton of light bulbs as her award, and they were definitely not CFL’s!
The Cooperative was officially incorporated in July, 1940 and the papers presented at the July 31, 1940 Board Meeting. Once officially organized and the first Board of Directors elected and first staffers hired, TEC borrowed $1.5 million start up and development funding from REA to build the original estimated 190 to 250 miles of lines that were utilized to serve this area. The actual operation of the cooperative began January 2, 1942 when 143 miles of lines were first energized, serving 190 rural customers. By the end of 1942, TEC had 948 members and 351 miles
of electrical lines. Area native and Quincy Funeral Director, Charles McClellan, has spent most all his life between Gadsden and Calhoun Counties and knows the region like the back of his hand. He is a local history buff as well!. “When they first started trying to sign folks up for electricity, many didn’t want to,” says McClellan. “They were afraid that it might burn their house down, but”, he said chuckling, “ they were already lighting their homes with kerosene lamps and cooking with wood burning, gas, or kerosene stoves.”
“We didn’t have electricity when I was born in 1943 - it wasn’t until 1948 that we got it,” recalls McClellan. “My grandmother gave us an old refrigerator for the house and, would you believe, it shorted out and burned our house down. Thank God no one was hurt. It didn’t make me afraid of it either. It was just an unfortunate accident. Faulty fire places, overturned kerosene lamps and old fashioned cook stoves have burned down many more homes.” “My first direct experience with TEC and electricity was as a boy in the 1950’s. We had just moved into town
(Quincy) and, as a 4-H member, I attended “basic electricity” classes on Saturday mornings conducted by Mr. Bascom Mahaffey and Miss Elise Laffitte at the Talquin offices back in 1956-57. For sure TEC brought electric service to the country, the farms and rural folks, and it has done an excellent job in covering its service areas by providing good service. By 1959, TEC had covered the area like the summer sunshine.”
Another long time western Leon County resident and Talquin Member and supporter, Russ Haines, reports, “in the early days many of the Talquin Electric service poles were harvested and milled right here in the area. Many of them came from Liberty County.” He said local contractors were hired to provide the poles. Haines said that “at first, residents had to furnish their own service pole. TEC did furnish a shorter temporary service pole but the service pole was up to you.”
“Money was still very tight in the early 40s,” says Haines, “and the Depression was just ending and the wartime economy just gearing up.” Haines says that, “At first, TEC provided electricity mostly for lighting, refrigeration and water pumps but it didn’t take long for the list to expand and the uses to increase.” The saw mills, turpentine stills and cotton gins most often already had their own electric generators and often extended their service lines to a nearby town or community --- where many of their workers lived. Many of the little towns were served by a privately owned light plant.
In the early days, rural Talquin country was sparsely populated. “Back then, you’d have to look hard to find two houses in a mile along State Road 20. Today that area has grown dramatically with many more homes and families but TEC meets those demands much the same as it did in the beginning with good old fashioned service,” Haines adds. Yes, since those historic times in the 1940’s, Talquin Electric Cooperative (TEC) has grown with the four county areas it serves. According to Cooperative records, each day more than 180 TEC employees work to maintain a network of over 4,400 miles of energized lines serving more than 54,000 residential and commercial accounts and water or wastewater services to more than 20,000 accounts.
Note: In Talquin Electric country and Florida, there’s history and heritage all around us. Forty-year veteran Florida newspaperman and historian
and Talquin member George Lane, Jr. provides glimpses into the region’s rich, colorful and interesting history. He can be contacted at: c/o 8348
Summerdale Lane, Tallahassee, FL 32311. Fax (850) 219-2100;
Talquin provides electricity to Quincy, Liberty, Wakulla and Leon Counties