, Derry, New Hampshire


January 17, 2013

Column: Derry was late to adopt electric lighting


The darkness of Derry was made all the more obvious by the view from East Derry Hill. From there on dark nights, the locals could see the electric lights glowing in the south from the cities of Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell and Nashua. To the north, the lights of Manchester “send heavenly her sea of brilliancy.” In November 1889, it was said that the lights of the Queen City were so bright that they actually “cast a shadow in East Derry.”

All this changed in Derry when, in 1890, Benjamin Chase decided to move his factory into modern times. Before this time, his factory on Chester Road was powered by water from Beaver Brook. The vagaries of the New Hampshire weather meant the saws of the mill could not operate all year long. During the dry spells of summer, the factory went silent. During the spring there was often too much water and the stream had to be diverted to avoid damage to the water wheel. And perhaps worst of all, lighting in the mill was by kerosene lamps. In a mill filled with sawdust and shavings, this was dangerous. The three-story mill burned down in 1882 and had been rebuilt within the year.

In October 1890, electricians were brought in from Boston to set up a dynamo and wire the mill for electricity. The dynamo could be turned by either water power from Beaver Lake or by gasoline when the free water power wasn’t available. The Derry News commented that the mill’s electric incandescent lights “are giving perfect satisfaction” and “are perfectly safe and in no danger of setting fire to the combustible material lying around.” No longer would there be a need to recognize March 20 as “Blowing-Out Day.” This was the date each year when the sun was sufficiently high in the afternoon sky that workers didn’t need to have lamps in order to have enough light to work Another benefit was that now the workers could continue their labors long after sundown if a rush order came in.

Text Only | Photo Reprints

Latest News