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Jackson EMC's 75th anniversary a tribute to those who formed cooperative

Celebrating 75 Years (Jefferson, GA, June 13) What can you do when you can’t get anyone to provide what you need? You organize your neighbors, band together and go get it for yourself.

That’s exactly what happened in northeast Georgia 75 years ago when a handful of community leaders and a determined county extension agent took advantage of the Rural Electrification Act(REA) to get their fellow farmers, rural homeowners and businesses to sign up for electricity. Rural Georgians had no electricity, no running water and no indoor toilets. If approved by the REA, Jackson Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) would not only light the rural darkness, but change their lives in the process.

The organizers put together community meetings, visited civic clubs and made individual trips to farms and businesses to talk about the seemingly remote possibility of bringing electricity to the area. Residents put down $5.00 to be members of a newly formed electric cooperative; in some cases, the organizers put in the $5.00 themselves.

“Today it seems like a small amount, about what we pay for a fast food meal; but nearing the end of the Great Depression, when most families were just scraping by, about two-thirds of the land being farmed in Georgia was worked by sharecroppers who lived on less than $200 a year,” notes Jackson EMC president & CEO Randall Pugh.

As a first step, the leaders had to provide the REA with customer contracts, membership fees, right-of-way easements, and a detailed map of the proposed project, as well as conduct a formal meeting and elect a board of directors. On June 22, more than 700 signed contracts for service were mailed to Washington D.C., along with a map of the proposed service area.

Chartered on June 27, 1938, the fledgling electric cooperative entered into its first contract to purchase wholesale power that October and began construction on its first 171 miles of single phase line serving 664 farms in Jackson, Banks and Madison counties in January 1939. With a flip of the switch at its first substation, located in Jefferson, on April 10, 1939, the first electricity flowed to Jackson EMC members.

“At first, the biggest change was a single, bare light bulb suspended by a cord from the ceiling that replaced kerosene lamps,” says Pugh. “After lights, the first small appliance purchased was typically an electric iron to replace the heavy wedge of iron heated on wood stoves or an electric radio to replace the car battery-operated model. Cooperative members received literature about electric pumps that would make possible running water and indoor plumbing. Farmers were encouraged to use electricity as an unpaid hired hand by putting electric milkers, pumps, grinders, brooders and milk coolers to use. Electric ovens and refrigerators began to replace wood stoves and iceboxes. Life on the farm was forever changed, and for the better.”

The cooperative’s second project was energized in late 1939, 284 miles of line into Hall, Gwinnett, Clarke, Banks, Barrow and Madison counties. And a third project built 224 miles of line to serve members in Gwinnett, Jackson, Hall and Lumpkin counties, most of which were energized in April 1940. “In a little more than a year, Jackson EMC had constructed a system of nearly 680 miles of energized wire, and it was just the beginning,” says Pugh.

Three-quarters of a century later, the electric cooperative formed from the vision of a few community leaders now serves nearly 210,000 meters with more than 13,500 miles of energized wire and 80 substations.

Jackson EMC will be celebrating 75 years of service beginning this month through April 2014. “Our first milestones were our charter and powering the first lines,” Pugh explains. “We’ve come a very long way in 75 years, but we couldn’t have done it without the drive and dedication of those few men and women who believed that they could start a cooperative and help their neighbors. This anniversary is a tribute to them, and to the many men and women who have worked at the cooperative to ensure the lights came on where they were needed and stayed on.”

The cooperative’s history and its impact on northeast Georgia is celebrated online at www.jacksonemc.com/75, through the publication of a historical review later this year entitled People.Power.Progress., and through a series of special events that will be announced later.