York County History Center Buildings 1885
“It is a matter of record—and fairly a part of the history of the city [of York]—that the Edison Light Company of York owed its birth and present success to Mr. [Adam F.] Geesey.” This quote comes from page 47 in Volume II of George Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, PA. Opposite page 46 of Mr. Geesey’s biographical sketch, within the same source, is this portrait of Adam F. Geesey; in his mid-60s.
The Edison Electric Light Company of York was responsible for constructing the first electric generating station in York County. This post takes a closer look at their initial power plant building, constructed in 1885, which sat on the property recently purchased by the York County Heritage Trust, with the goal of renovating the buildings for a new York County history center. My post New History Center Generated Edison Electricity provided an brief overview of all the buildings in what was the former Met-Ed Steam Heat Generating Plant on the northeast corner of West Philadelphia Street and North Pershing Avenue in York.
York County native Adam F. Geesey was born in 1841 and served in the Civil War; after which he launched a flourishing mercantile enterprise in Dallastown. In 1878 Adam moved to the City of York were he became an admired county office holder. After the 1885 establishment of the Edison Electric Light Company of York, Mr. Geesey was owner of the York Gazette from 1887 through 1893, were he “devoted the greater part of his time to the upbuilding of that newspaper property.” In 1898 the York Steam Heating Company was founded by Adam F. Geesey, this company was an adjunct of the electric light company. After Mr. Geesey sold his interest in the electric light company in 1900, he continued as a director and superintendent of the York Steam Heating Company for a number of years.
A relevant time period source, regarding the 1885 establishment of the Edison Electric Light Company in York comes from a public notice the company placed in the May 21, 1885 issue of The York Daily:
The Edison Electric Light Company, of York, announces that they are making rapid progress toward the completion of their plant. A brick building to contain the machinery will be finished next week. Everything has been contracted for, two engines of eighty horse power each will be on their foundations in three weeks, and new pattern dynamos from the Edison Machine Works will be placed in position by the same time. The poles are nearly all erected. Every patron of the light will be amply secured in its use against any outside interference, as Mr. Edison holds the exclusive right to all the lamps and appliances that will be used by the Edison Electric Light Company of York. All appliances for light should at once be made to Adam F. Geesey, or to the undersigned, as all wiring up to the time of the starting of the [electric] light [generating plant] will be done at the expense of the company. Signed; J. Wiest, Secretary, and G. P. Yost, President.
A good source for understanding the earliest Edison Electric Light Companies is the book “Edisonia, A Brief History of the early Edison Electric Lighting System” by the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies, published in 1904. The first Edison dynamo placed for the lighting of incandescent lamps in a business establishment was placed in New York City in 1881. The first Edison Electric plant built for the lighting of incandescent lamps in a town was operational in 1882; in Appleton, Wisconsin.
In the early 1880’s there were several other companies vying to sell their lighting systems, in fact, the Arnoux Electric Light and Power Company had given an impressive demonstration in 1883 of their carbon arc lamps lighting centre square in York. To do this, Arnoux utilized electricity from local dynamos already running small motors within select business establishments.
The 1885 public notice for the local Edison company noted, “Every patron of the light will be amply secured in its use against any outside interference, as Mr. Edison holds the exclusive right to all the lamps and appliances that will be used by the Edison Electric Light Company of York.” The outside interference refers to the many electric generating and illumination patents of Thomas Edison, that were for the most part upheld when challenged by his competition.
Thomas Edison required that all major electrical machinery and components be purchased from his Edison Machine Works for any Edison Electric Light Company plant. In 1885, those items were produced in the following pictured Edison Machine Works at 104 Goerck Street, New York City.
The Edison Machine Works in New York City was established in 1881, to produce dynamos and other components of Edison’s electric illumination systems. This was the initial Edison factory, for that purpose, outside of his laboratories and small machine shop at Menlo Park, NJ. The Edison Machine Works produced all of the key components used by large and small Edison Electric Light Companies springing up around the country; such as the 1885 plant in York, PA.
The escalating demand for Edison electric plants quickly overwhelmed the New York City factory and in 1886, the Edison Machine Works moved to a large site in Schenectady, NY. In 1889, the Machine Works and all of Edison’s electric related companies merged to form Edison General Electric, then becoming just General Electric in 1892. The Schenectady plant was GE’s headquarters for many years.
The following is a 2015 southeast looking view of the former Met-Ed Steam Heat Generating Plant, which the York County Heritage Trust recently purchased to establish a new York County history center. The 1885 Edison Electric Light Company generating station was located along Gas Avenue in a one-story brick building. The “dotted white lines” indicate where the original building was located within part of the footprint of the two-story brick building that now stands in its place. Click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.
The two-story building was built around the initial one-story building in 1892 and then the one-story building was torn down, without any interruption to the operation of the plant. The floor from the “dotted white lines” part of the original plant, may still be from the 1885 structure.
Related links include:
- New History Center Generated Edison Electricity
- Dallastown, Dallas and Geesey
- Edison Lights Streets as York becomes a City
- War of the Currents hits York
- Edison Electric Plant becomes subsidiary of York Railways
- 100th Birthday for the History Center Chimney
- Birth of District Steam Heating in York
- New Name is York County History Center
- Twin Smokestacks at Edison Plant
- Your History Starts Here
- History Center’s Smokestack Twin
- Edison Electric Plant Expansions in York
- 1931 Aerial Photo of Edison Electric Plant in York