Historic Structures

Electric Power Production at the Mill Muscogee Manufacturing Company Mill, Columbus Georgia

The 19th-century water power facilities of the Muscogee Manufacturing Company provided hydromechanical power via belts and shafting to the machinery of Mills #1 and #2. The wheelhouse adjacent to Mill #1, which remains standing but is unused today, juts out into the river flow. Water passed through the head gates in the northern wall to the turbines. The tailrace ran past the Eagle and Phenix mills, and served as tailrace for the turbines of those mills as well.

In 1885, Muscogee's water power acquired a far greater significance for Columbus. In that year William A. Swift, son of George P. Swift and director of the recently organized Brush Electric Light and Power Company of Columbus, installed a 20-arc-light Brush dynamo in the wheelhouse of Mill #1. This was the first electric dynamo installed at Columbus for commercial use (Eagle and Phenix had installed an arc-light dynamo in 1880 for its own mills). The turbine-driven dynamo provided light to a few downtown merchants after the Muscogee mills closed for the night. During the first nights of its operation, hundreds of curious citizens crowded Broadway to inspect the phenomenon.

Soon thereafter the Brush Company installed a 60-arc-light Brush dynamo to provide street lighting for Columbus. By 1890, demand for electricity had so expanded that the Brush Electric Light and Power Company moved-its operations to another site. From 1897 until 1904, Muscogee Manufacturing received electricity for light and power from the hydroelectric plant of the Columbus Railroad Company.

The Muscogee Company remodeled its wheelhouse in 1898 to increase the capacity of the turbines beneath. The head gates were enlarged and more water was diverted from the stream into the tailraca. This action sparked a serious controversy with Muscogee's influential neighbor. Muscogee Manufacturing owned only water lot #1. Eagle and-Phenix owned the next 18 downstream (the 18 lots below Eagle and Phenix, set aside by the city as water lots, were never industrially developed). Eagle and Phenix brought suit against the Muscogee Manufacturing Company, claiming that the latter was using more than its share of the water power made available by the Eagle and Phenix dam, that Muscogee was allowed only 1/19 of the available water power. Muscogee claimed that because Eagle and Phenix had devoted only 11 of its 18 lots to development of water power, building warehouses and other outbuildings on the remainder with no relation to the river, Muscogee was entitled to 1/12 of the available water power.

The court refused to support Eagle and Phenix's claim. The case was long and drawn out. In 1909 an out of court agreement was finally reached between the two water lot owners. Muscogee closed down its wheelhouse (except for the fire pumps feeding its Hill Automatic Sprinkler system); in return, Eagle and Phenix supplied power to Muscogee in amounts up to 500 horsepower per day. This power was transmitted electrically from the Eagle and Phenix upper power house to motors in Mills #1 and #2 which drove the shafting.

Use of electric power was not new at Muscogee in 1909. Mill #4, completed in 1904, was designed to run completely on electric power, transmitted from the North Highlands dam of the Columbus Power Company. From 1910 Muscogee received power from both the Power Company's and the Eagle and Phenix's generators. Muscogee continues to use centrally generated power today; not since the 1909 agreement with Eagle and Phenix has the company produced power for its own use.