J. M. Odell Brings Electricity to Concord

19 Feb 2015

Dynamos, similar to these, were used by the Odell factory to supply electricity to light the city. Image: Scientific American, April 2, 1881

The history of public services – telephone, electricity, and water – which changed the lives of the citizens of Concord, can be traced back to the late 1800s. On February 16, 1889, the Concord Board of Commissioners approved J. M. Odell’s proposition to light the town of Concord and awarded him a twenty-year contract to provide such services. A special meeting was then called on February 18, 1889 where the formal agreement was entered into by the commissioners and J. M. Odell.

According to the agreement between Mr. Odell and the commissioners, the street lights would burn during the night hours, seven days a week with the exception of moonlit nights when the lamps would not be lit. In addition, the necessary equipment to supply electricity to homes, churches, and businesses would also be put into place.

The power for the dynamos to produce the electricity was to be supplied by the Odell factory engine. “This is just another very important step forward in the progress for which Concord is becoming justly noted,” declares the writer for Concord’s local paper, The Standard.

Due to inclement weather during the beginning of April, there were delays in the actual lighting of the streets and homes. The first mention of lights in Concord occurred on Saturday, April 20, 1889, when the St. Cloud Hotel was lit with electricity, according to The Standard on April 26.

On May 10, The Times reported that all of the churches would be lit with electricity. “The Presbyterian has it, the wires are up in the Lutheran and nearly in place in the Methodist church.”

Street lights were later to come with the first mention appearing in The Standard on Friday, June 7, 1889. The company began with 75 street lights of 20 candlepower each. The local section of the paper reported that the arc light in front of the St. Cloud Hotel was a beauty. The writer proclaimed, “it was almost as light as day.” A local resident of Concord who was a student was asked what he thought of the new electric lights. His response was that “they relieve me of the annoyance of bugs and candle flies.”
The Concord Electric Light Company continued to progress, providing more customers and businesses with electricity until March 14, 1904 when the City of Concord purchased the company from J. M. Odell and the other stockholders.

Courtesy of the Cabarrus County Public Library, Lore Local History Room