At the start of the 18th century Alesandro Volta described the first battery. It was Humphry Davy who built the first working battery in 1807 and Michael Faraday that built the first generator in 1831. Werner Siemens revolutionized the field in 1866 with the first dynamo. Edison created the lightbulb in 1879 and began generating electric power in 1882. The demand for electricity skyrocketed. His first power plant at Pearl Street in New York City generated enough power to service the electrical demands of 225 houses.
After the first electric light was demonstrated in Atlanta on October_20, 1880, electric power was immediately in demand in the state capitol. In 1883 citizens organized the Georgia Electric Light Company to "serve patrons...or introduce said lights wherever desired." Later that year the company purchased its first power plant and built a generating facility at the corner of Marietta Street and Spring Street. Gas lighting had always presented problems. Although the number of gas lamps in the city would increase to 491 in 1885, it fell rapidly to 0 once the city begin installing electric light in July of that year. Atlanta quickly outgrew the capacity of its first plant, which was used to run the electric lights and streetcars. Banker Henry Atkinson, first a shareholder in Georgia Electric Light Company became its owner in 1890.
One of his first tasks was to rebuild the already outdated electric system. In 1893, when the new Degives Opera House opened ("Electric lighting instead of gas" was used to attract customers), Peachtree Street was on its way to becoming known as the "Great White Way," and home to most of the company's 200 customers. Atlanta electrical service only ran from 4:30 pm until midnight until 1900, when 24-hour service began. In 1902 Atkinson chartered the Georgia Railway and Electric Company to consolidate his street car lines (purchased from fellow Atlantan Joel Hurt) and electric generating facilities under a single company. A year later the company bought an old competitor - Atlanta Gas Light.
Developer S. Morgan Smith decided to build his own hydroelectric plant on the Chattahoochee River. In order to build the dam the state expanded and upgraded Roswell Road and Smith built a railroad to the site of the dam. Smith and Atkinson entered into an agreement in 1904 (the year the dam began producing power) with Atkinson buying the entire output of Morgan Falls Dam. Although the largest hydroelectric project in the state at the time it was not the first. That feather went to Gainesville, Georgia, who began using hydroelectric power from the Chattahoochee River in 1902. Preston Arkwright purchased the Atlanta Crackers in 1906 to increase ridership on his electric streetcar line.
Generator at Lawrenceville plant (1906)
Across north Georgia, power generating was quickly becoming big business. Rome, Georgia built a power plant in 1884 and began installing electric lights on city streets before Atlanta. In Lawrenceville, a generating plant was built on Mechanic Street and it was in operation shortly after the turn of the century. Additional facilities powered Cedartown's electric lights, which were added in 1913. In some cases, local entrepreneurs would cut costs by building their own hydroelectric power plants. For example, Jefferson Mills in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, converted a grist mill's dam into a power generation facility. It is now a part of Watson Mill Covered Bridge State Park. The Georgia Railway and Power Company built the state's largest generating facility at Tallulah Gorge State Park in 1912. The Tallulah River, which had spent eons carving a gorge in the North Georgia Mountains was dammed and the water was passed through a generating plant, where it would shoot down to power - North Carolina! Eventually, the power did make it down to Atlanta. The workers from the mountains of north Georgia who built the plant would have to wait until after World War II to enjoy the comfort of electric power.
Starting in 1920 the state of Georgia began forming the Southeast power grid with a connection from Rome, Georgia to Gadsden , Alabama . The grid offered continued power in the event of an unexpected catastrophe. Small power companies rose in some of the larger small towns in north Georgia , most notably Toccoa and Blue Ridge, mostly centered on hydroelectric power (for more on these, see North Georgia Lakes). Atlanta Gas Light was sold by Georgia Power in 1929, and the company introduced Plant Atkinson (Cobb County), a coal-fired generating facility on October_17, 1930 that represented Georgia Power's move away from hydro-electric power following the devastating drought of the mid-1920's.
From a 1937 display in Dalton, Georgia on home use of electricity
Powerhouse and dam at Allatoona (1955)
Reaching rural Georgia was a problem; the expense of building transmission lines outside cities was prohibitive. Nationwide, less than 10% of rural families had electricity in 1933 (the figure was lower in north Georgia). To bring service to areas without power companies the Roosevelt Administration formed the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. The REA was one of the most controversial in the alphabet soup of agencies formed in the 1930's, since government was directly competing with private industry. Typically, the REA would organize an electric cooperative to build transmission lines which it would also partially fund. In some cases, private utilities would extend service areas with the help of the REA. In 1939 more than 25% of north Georgia 's homes were electrified, but the goal of nearly 100% would not be reached until the early 1950's.
Powerhouse at Buford Dam
Damming the Etowah River with Allatoona Dam near Cartersville meant reducing flooding in the Rome , Georgia area, but it also gave the Army Corps of Engineers a source of power. It began producing electricity on January 31, 1950. By that time land was being purchased in northeast Georgia to create Lake Lanier History. Groundbreaking would occur a month later on March 1, 1950, and in 1957 the power plant at Lanier came on-line. In spite of the massive output of hydroelectric power, these facilities actually provide less than 2% of Georgia's energy. Most of it comes from coal-fired facilities like Georgia Power's Plant Hammond on the Coosa River just west of downtown Rome. This coal-fired plant came on-line in 1954. In 1971, Bartow County 's Plant Bowen, one of the largest coal-fired steam generation plants in the nation, was added to North Georgia's power base.
Many of the places we mention in this article can be visited. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers has developed a mile-long hiking trail known as the Buford Dam Trail. For more on the history of the dam, see the Army Corp of Engineers site for the history of Buford Dam or our own section on Lake Lanier we did for a series on the Chattahoochee River
Morgan Falls Dam is mostly fishing in the Chattahoochee, but there is a boat launch. Morgan Falls Road comes off Roswell Road west of GA 400 between Northridge Road and Abernathy Road. Follow the road as it drops into the Chattahoochee River Valley and turns into a single lane before coming out at Morgan Falls Dam.