According to Jill Garrett’s Hither and Yon II, "As early as 1809 the town fathers were concerned about a water supply for Columbia, and the Columbia Water Company was incorporated. Nothing was done until the 1830’s."
According to the city minutes, on September 30, 1811, John Hodge, William McNeil, Samuel Craig, Jeremiah Cherry, Peter Cheatham, Isaac Harden, and John M. Taylor were appointed a water company.
According to the Century Review 1805 – 1905 Maury County, Tennessee: "By reference to "County Seat" the reader may learn about the early waterworks. The present company comes from merging the Electric Light Co., chartered January 1880, by T.B. Raines, Calvin Morgan, Lucius Frierson, T.B. Childers, Geo. L. Thomas, and J.M. Mayes, with the Water Company, created by ordinance Apr. 3, 83 (1883), to erect a reservoir on Mt. Parnassus. The plant was built by Travers Daniel, pumping station above the Duck River Bridge, with intake above all sewer outlets, and water filtering through gravel and sand. The plant has two 100 hp. engines, and the water tube boilers aggregate 400 hp. The duplicate pumps have a capacity of over 1,000,000 gallons each daily. The reservoir is 300 ft. above the river, capacity 2,000,000 gallons, and where the mains are of proper size gives good fire pressure; but for high buildings and emergencies, the city needs a modern fire engine. The capital of the Electric Light & Water Company is $100,000. There are 77 fire hydrants, seven miles of mains, and the water is said to be exceptionally good for boilers. The electric plant was rebuilt spring of 1904; has one three-phase dynamo 150 kW, one 3-phase 200 kW 60 cycle, 225 hp. engine. The city uses 60 enclosed alternating current arc lights at $75 each annually; 2,100 incandescent lamps are in use, and the plant has sufficient power for many more."
"The Columbia Waterworks Plant … is kept in first-class repair throughout the superintendence of J.S. Robinson, who was born in Texas, 1874, and has been in charge here for several years. W.B. Dobbins, manager of this company since 1899, was born in Maury County, 1846, and has been in business at Columbia from early manhood."
Citizens Get Power
According to the city minute book, on September 17, 1888, the mayor and aldermen passed an ordinance "to provide lighting on the streets with electric lights and power and to also supply its citizens with lights and power."
According to the "First Annual Report to the Board of Mayor and Commissioners of Columbia, Tennessee" for Fiscal year ending June 30, 1940 of the Board of Public Utilities: "On August 16, 1939 the City of Columbia, Tennessee acquired through purchase, the properties of The Tennessee Electric Power Company in Columbia and a large area adjacent thereto in Maury County and one community in Williamson County and to accomplish this purchase sold electric revenue bonds in the amount of $800,000 dated June 1, 1939." "At the time of the purchase of City of Columbia was with the assistance of Public Works Administration of U.S. Government engaged in building an electric distribution system in Columbia by private contract and had received from P.W.A. an advance grant of $30,600.00. While negotiations for purchase of the existing utility were under way this private control was slowed down and finally closed leaving a partially built duplicate distribution system."
Board of Public Utilities Created
The City of Columbia on February 3, 1939 acting under the provisions of Chapter 32 of the Acts of 1935 of the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee and laws supplement thereto created a Board of Public Utilities consisting of three members for the operation of the electric system and for the transaction of such business as might arise in connection with same." The original members of the Board were T.B. Forgey, Chairman; R.J. Harlan, temporary secretary; and W.A. Ray. On June 6, 1939, Mr. T.B. Forgey resigned from the Board and Mr. U.H. Foster was named his replacement. Mr. R.J. Harlan was elected chairman and Mr. U.H. Foster was named as temporary secretary. "The Board of Public Utilities held its first meeting on February 6, 1939 and regular meetings thereafter and on June 15, 1939 employed a manager (Mr. Robert W. Williamson) to operate the electric system under their supervision and control and on Aug. 16, 1939 began the operation of the acquired properties. On August 17, 1939 said Board designated for the operation of the electric property the title Columbia Power System as their operating agency." Mr. Williamson was named Secretary of the Board.
According to the June 23, 1939 Board minutes, on "May 15, 1939, an agreement was entered into between Tennessee Valley Authority and the City of Columbia under the terms of which Tennessee Valley Authority agrees for a period of 20 years to supply electric current to the City of Columbia." The Board of Public Utilities ratified and confirmed the agreement at its June 23, 1939 meeting.
On August 4, 1939, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted a resolution titled "A Resolution Confirming the Sale of $800,000 Electric System Revenue Bonds of the City of Columbia" and the Board of Public Utilities ratified the resolution at its Aug. 5, 1939 meeting. On August 15, 1939 in New York City, the closing transaction on the $800,000 electric revenue bonds took place according to the August 17, 1939 minutes of the Board of Public Utilities. The Electric System was purchased from the Tennessee Electric Power Company on August 16, 1939 for $654,018.99. The Board also paid the City of Columbia $6,225.13 "for items of expense in connection with the building of an electric system and the acquisition of property of Tennessee Electric Power Company" per minutes of the August 30, 1939 Board meeting.
The first office of Columbia Power System was located at 212 West Seventh Street, which was owned by the Crescent Amusement Company and was known as the Bethel House.
According to the Board minutes of May 10, 1941, "on the 7th day of May, 1941, the Board of Commissioners of the City of Columbia, Tennessee, adopted a Resolution substituting the Board of Public Utilities of the City of Columbia for the Board of Waterworks and Sewerage Commissioners provided for in Chapter 68 of the Public Acts of 1933, and vesting in said Board of Public Utilities, all of the powers, duties, and responsibilities placed upon the Board of Waterworks and Sewerage Commissioners in Chapter 68 of the Public Acts of 1933, and granting to the Board of Public Utilities of the City of Columbia full jurisdiction over the waterworks plant, distribution system, and other things appertaining thereto." The Board of Public Utilities ratified the Resolution and accepted "the custody, administration, operation, maintenance, and control of said Waterworks." The City issued $425,000 in Waterworks Revenue Bonds.
In 1939-40, Columbia Power System consumers averaged paying 1.86 cents per kWh in their homes and used an average of 1,575 kWh annually.
The City of Columbia Experiences a Record Flood
On Friday, Feb. 13, 1948 at 10:15 a.m., R.W. Williamson, manager of CPWS, reported that "the water plant which serves Columbia and part of the surrounding area, was shut down." Mr. Williamson said, "all stores except food stores would be asked to close at 4 p.m. today as the only electric supply would be from the South Columbia substation. Citizens are asked to burn only one light in their homes and use as little water as possible." Water was delivered by CWS to residents using a Borden’s tanker truck on the Courthouse Square.
According to The Daily Herald headlines on Thursday, Feb. 19, 1948: "City Water, Power Back to Normal." The Herald reported, "All water and electric power operations in Columbia returned to completely normal operations today to end a seven-day siege created here by the disastrous flood during which time the water supply for 16,000 persons was shut off and power production was limited."
Twenty Five Years Later
In 1964, CPS electric plant was valued at $2.7 million. Columbia Power System has 10,199 customers. Homes in Columbia averaged using 12,773 kWh of electricity annually and the average cost was 2.36 cents per kWh). The average home in the nation used 4,360 kWh yearly, compared to 12,773 kWh annually by CPS residential customers. According to the General Manager, John Cobb, "The record amount of electricity used in Columbia is set by the wide use of electric appliances and the large segment of residential customers who use electricity to heat their homes." Total electricity used by CPS customers increased 17 times in the first 25 years of CPS’s existence from 14,468,980 kWh to 184,999,614. CPS revenues in 1964 were $1,685,124 and purchased power amounted to $810,897, or 48% of revenues.