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September 8, 1998

Perry started from scratch ‘way back there in 1893 when an estimated 100,000 homesteaders flocked to the Cherokee Strip for a monumental land run. It is called the largest, most spectacular competitive event in history (according to the Oklahoma Historical Society) and a tumultuous finale to what many have called the last American frontier. Some 40,000 men and women landed in the Perry area and spent the first night camped out in this vicinity. Only about 4,000 were still here a few days later.

There was no ready-made water processing and distribution system, no electrical system, and certainly no provision for manufacturing ice to serve those hardy pioneers who staked their claims here. Water, of course, was a basic concern, it being an essential ingredient to sustain life for man and beast. The need for it 105 years ago was painfully obvious to those pioneers as they struggled to deal with extreme heat and a prolonged drought, two problems that continue to this day.

An interesting story about Perry's first municipal water, light and ice plant is told in the August issue of OMPA Outlet, the periodic newsletter of the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority, based on information from the city's record of council proceedings from 1893-1897 and from 1897-1904. I'll attempt to capsulize some of the salient points.

Discussion by the town council concerning the need for electric lights started barely two months after the run, on November 14, 1893. At that meeting, the council laid aside a resolution to grant the Perry Heat, Power and Light Company a franchise to operate here. The resolution was referred to the Committee on Gas and Lights. Two days later, on November 16, the council referred another resolution to the Gas and Lights Committee calling for a franchise for electric service to be granted to the Electric Light and Power Company of Perry.

The council continued to receive requests from others interested in building, operating and maintaining an electric plant in the city. On December 12, 1893, the council unanimously approved Ordinance No. 28, granting J.W. O'Neill and F. W Sweet the right to "erect, construct, maintain and operate" an electric light plant and street railway and to furnish heat, light and motor power in the city of Perry, and contracting for arc lights to be used in lighting the streets, alleys and public avenues of Perry and stipulating the price to be paid by Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Sweet. No subsequent reference is found concerning the street railway.

However, on January 18, 1894, council members reversed their earlier decision of granting the electric franchise to Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Sweet by approving Ordinance No. 56. This ordinance, which passed after three readings, granted E.W. Griffith and George M. Stele the right to "construct an electric plant.” One explanation for the city granting the franchise to two different groups could be that Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Sweet did not have adequate funds to build the electric plant. The plant was built in 1895.

For the first ten years or so, Perry's water, ice and electric services were provided by various private enterprises. How the city got into the business of providing these essential services to Perry residents will be told in the next Northwest Corner. Please stay tuned.