Louisville Gas and Electric Company Service Station Complex
The Louisville Gas & Electric Company Service Station existed as part of a large complex of buildings that served Louisville Gas & Electric from the 1920s to the 1980s. Although the company formally incorporated in 1914, its roots date back to the 1830s as Louisville Gas & Water. For more than 145 years, the company provided gas to Louisville and helped the city in 1839 become only the fifth U.S. city to enjoy gas lights on its streets. By World War I, the company owned and operated its own mines to help obtain coal for its gas production. The company added electricity production around the turn of the century, inspired in part by Thomas Edison's display at the Louisville's Southern Exposition during the 1880s, held in today's Old Louisville. The Service Station is located near the recently-renovated Edison Center. Together, they stand as monuments to the company and its place within Louisville's urban history and the role gas and electricity played in that story.
Backstory and Context
In 1839, Louisville enjoyed the distinction as the fifth U.S. city to enjoy gas lights on its streets, provided by what became Louisville Gas and Electric Service (LG&E). In time, the city and LG&E became a leader in providing gas fuel, even operating its own mines. LG&E added electrical production to its services by the 1910s, helping the company grow substantially. The historic complex of buildings, notably the one-story, brick Service Station Building erected in 1924, indicates increased gas and electric service industry growth and the concurrent increase in businesses requiring gas and electric service by the turn of the twentieth century. The Service Station exists as part of a complex of buildings constructed during the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century (most of which have been demolished). The property contributed to the gas and electric industry until 1984-85 when LG&E moved its operations to a new site.
City officials pushed for a contractual arrangement with private investors to establish the Louisville Gas & Water Company. Although incorporation of the company occurred in 1913, its roots date back to 1838 when the state of Kentucky authorized the company to produce gas used for lighting streets, businesses, and homes. On Christmas Day, 1839, Louisville became the fifth U.S. city and the first west of the Allegheny Mountains to have gaslights on its streets; more than 460 lights illuminated the city by 1849, which grew to 925 lights by 1859.
.In 1842, Louisville Gas & Water Company became Louisville Gas Company and mainly focused on streetlights until the 1880s, when they began distributing gas to homes for cooking and heating. However, even before they started supplying homes with gas, during the 1870s, Louisville Gas recognized the need to embrace the newest form of power: electricity. From 1883 to 1887, Louisville's Southern Exposition, a five-year series of world fairs located in today's Old Louisville and attracted more than 750,000 people featured the latest industrial, mercantile, and technological innovations. The highlight included 4,600 light bulbs and forty miles of wiring -- the nation's largest display -- by former Louisville resident Thomas Edison.
Edison's demonstration showed people that electricity could be used safely and cleanly and convinced Louisville's Mayor to install arc lights at the city's river wharf in 1884. It also convinced businesses such as Louisville Gas to delve into electricity production. (Although, it did not take much time to realize that arc lighting proved far more dangerous than Edison's incandescent light bulbs, which eventually allowed the new source of power to proliferate.) More than ten electric companies emerged by the 1890s. In fact, in 1890, Louisville Gas purchased the Louisville Electric Company and almost immediately replaced gas lights on the streets with electric lights; every gas light had been replaced by 1900. And by 1913, engineer H.M. Byllesby of H. M. Bylesbee and Company of Chicago, who oversaw the installation of Edison's electric system at Louisville's Southern Exposition, consolidated the city's many gas and electric utilities to form LG&E.
Bylesbee managed LG&E under the umbrella of the Standard Gas and Electric System, which served 5.5 million customers in 19 states. In 1923, LG & E constructed a dam and hydroelectric plant capable of producing 80,000 kilowatts upon opening in 1927. Though its electrical production grew, the company still managed a sizable gas operation, supported by the city's willingness to construct pipelines and infastrcutre. Substantial coal industry growth, notably during World War I, resulted in LG&E entering the mining business; the company owned three mines. All told, the company helped light, heat, and power hundreds of thousands of businesses and residences in the Louisville area.
In the 1920s, the H.M. Byllesby Company, owner of the LG&E, constructed the historic plant property, with the Service Station Building as its focal point. The facility served the Louisville Gas & Electric Company for well over sixty years, leaving for a new facility in 1985. By 1928, the LG&E site was home to the LG & E Distribution And Stores Department comprised of several buildings with the Service Station serving as the heart of the company's energy delivery system. Today, the Service Station (current home to North Lime Donuts) and the larger, newly-renovated Edison Center survive as reminders of the evolution of gas and electrical power and its use by homes, industries, and for civic purposes such as street lights.
McMahan, Dana. "North Lime puts finishing touches on Old Louisville doughnut shop " Courier-Journal (Louisville) October 10th 2017. , Restaurants sec.https://www.courier-journal.com/story/entertainment/dining/restaurant/2017/10/10/north-lime-doughnut-shop/746171001/.
Shafer, Sheldon S. "Edison Center dedicated in Old Louisville." Courier-Journal (Louisville) August 8, 2016. , News sec. https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2016/08/17/edison-center-dedicated-old-louisville/88839360/.
Weeter, Joanne. "Nomination Form: Louisville Gas & Electric Company Service Station Complex." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. 2015. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/da97bb9b-acbf-4e3a-a248-3787b64bcd00/.
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