The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 4, Page 4.


Valparaiso Got Its First "View" of Electricity From The Great Thomas Edison

Fifty-six years ago electricity was first brought to Valparaiso and the men who brought it was no other than that wizard of the electric field, Thomas Alva Edison, noted inventor, who died some years ago at his West Orange, N. J., home. Here is how it happened.

Edison, then a young man, seeking to prove the merit of his great invention -- that of electric light -- came to Valparaiso and gave the city its first electric lighting.

According to accounts of Edison's visit, the Gould House, then Valparaiso's finest hotel and located where the Premier theater now stands, was his headquarters.

Mr. Edison's demonstration while here consisted of "lighting up" the Fisk building, where the new Elks' temple now stands. John D. Wilson, builder of the court house, and father of J. H. Wilson and Mrs. E. F. Van Ness, of this city, was contractor on the building.

It is believed that Mr. Edison brought his own dynamo here to generate power, as there was no such equipment available in Valparaiso at that time.

There was a great celebration according to reports, which was in charge of Colonel Mark L. DeMotte, former dean of the Valparaiso university law school and one-time congressman.

The late Elliott F. Van Ness, founder of the Van Ness Electric company, gave the city its first lighting plant back in 1890. It was located on the site of the Klin-McGill golf factory.

Electric lights were considered back in 1887. The Messenger on October 8, 1887, said editorially: "Our city council is wisely investigating the matter of lighting the city with electricity. Of course this move will meet with stern opposition, nevertheless we hope that the city will go right ahead and thoroughly investigate the matter, and, if they find that the city will receive better service for less money than they are now receiving, it is their duty to act and act decidedly.

When the VanNess electric plant was destroyed by fire, Edwin Tice of Chicago was granted the right on April 9, 1894, by the city council to establish and maintain an electric lighting plant in the city. In September following Tice sold his franchise to Elzer C. Noe, also of Chicago. Charles H. Sweet ultimately became the possessor of the franchise and erected the plant. Subsequently he purchased the gas plant of John W. Stratton, which had been erected in 1879. The two plants were consolidated as the Valparaiso Lighting company. W. H. Gardner, former Valparaiso banker, and a group of Valparaiso men later purchased the company, conducting it for a number of years. Clarence H. Geist, former Westville man, now a big power in the eastern utility field, took over the property. He in turn sold it to the Kelsey-Brewer syndicate of Grand Rapids, Mich. In August, 1924, the Kelsey-Brewer syndicate sold to the Calumet company. Later the Insull company acquired the plant, which goes under the name of the Northern Indiana Public Service Company.

George W. Conover, former Valparaiso man and inventor of the Conover washing machine, is also credited with being one of the first to experiment in the local lighting field.

In fact, Conover, who held a telephone franchise from the city, also obtained a lighting franchise after he convinced the city council and Mayor Thomas G. Lytle that his plan of lighting was feasible.

Conover, to prove the efficiency of his lighting apparatus, rigged up a wire from a dynamo at the old Vidette building, then located on West Lincolnway, near the old White Front garage, now occupied by Sears, Roebuck and Company building, to the corner near the old Academy of Music block at Washington and Lincolnway.

The first attempt was not much of a success despite the fact that the boiler in the printing plant, then operated by former Judge William R. Talcott, was fired to capacity.

Later Conover secured a larger boiler from the Kankakee river and a fine light was produced. The council then granted the franchise and the city became electrically lighted.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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