In the 1930’s electrification was a dream for most rural residents of Hart, Stephens, Franklin, Madison, Banks, and Elbert Counties, their dream is today’s reality. The beginning of rural electrification in general is traced to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s summer cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia. In 1924, Roosevelt’s first month’s electric bill for the cottage was so much higher than the electric bill for his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., that it prompted Roosevelt’s long and intense study of public utility charges for electricity in farm houses. Eleven years later as part of his national recovery program, Roosevelt signed the executive order that created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). The REA was the catalyst needed for the distribution of electrical power to rural homes of Hart County and the adjoining counties. The REA was formed and began seeking ways to get electricity to the countryside and quickly decided the way to do this was through cooperatives. The dream was now in the process of becoming a reality, bringing lights and power to homes and community centers of this section of Georgia. This desire for a better way of life motivated a group of dedicated and conscientious people to accomplish the ground work necessary for the formation of Hart County EMC.
During 1934, several prominent citizens of Hart County began talking and investigating the possibility of obtaining electric power for the rural sections of Hart and adjoining counties. The first organizational meeting was held at Sardis School on August 26, 1936 with John G. Richardson serving as president and C. M. Reed serving as secretary. Other meetings were held from time to time in other community centers, especially Nancy Hart, Rock Branch, Centerville, and Reed Creek.
Committees were appointed in each section of Hart and adjoining counties. The appointees went right to work securing rights-of-way and subscribers for the proposed lines. They were successful in their undertakings. Subscribers paid their fees long before they actually received power.
Obtaining the necessary information from the authorities in Washington was done and work continued to acquire the desired number of consumers, and by the summer of 1937, the time was ripe for maps to be drawn of the proposed lines. With contracts in hand, a delegation left Hartwell for Washington, D.C., to confer with the proper authorities in order to make application for an allotment for the actual building of an electric line. The delegation consisted of: L.C. Westbrook, C.M. Reed, H.E. Ethridge, L.L. Morris, W.A. Moss, and T.S. Mason. The Honorable Paul Brown, area Congressman at the time, rendered great services to this delegation. He was also a tremendous help in handling the affairs of the cooperative in Washington.
A cooperative must have a name, and HART COUNTY ELECTRIC MEMBERSHIP CORPORATION was chosen. A Superior Court charter was obtained on November 20, 1937. George Bell was loaned to the cooperative by the Georgia Power Company to develop the first preliminary maps. He was later offered and accepted the position as project superintendent. He went to work with the organization on October 15, 1937. Miss Ellen Keese Pruitt from the Shoal Creek Community of Hart County was selected as bookkeeper-stenographer and went to work on December 6, 1937.
The first Hart County EMC board meeting was held December 4, 1937. The purpose of the meeting called by John G. Richardson was to elect officers of the corporation. The following were elected: President – John G. Richardson; Vice-President – J. Thomas Sewell; Secretary/Treasurer – W.B. McMullan; Directors – I.S. Haley and R.W. Warren. The construction loan contract was also signed at this meeting.
The second Hart County EMC board meeting was held on December 17, 1937. At this meeting, the method of getting the contracts and easements signed was decided on and approved.
At the February 4, 1938 meeting of the Board of Directors, they discussed the completion of the maps of proposed lines to be built. The first bids for the construction of lines were let on March 8, 1938.
The first allotment for $100,000 was granted, and with this, the first unit of 123 miles was built. This was energized on June 18, 1938. The following August, the cooperative was given an allotment of $226,000 and with this, the Hart County EMC completed 240 miles of line. This was energized at various times during the following winter. With the completion of the two units, the Hart County EMC had a total of 363 miles of line.
The contract for building the first unit of lines was awarded to the Roy Richards Company of Carrollton, Georgia. The unit was built in record time, and Roy Richards became a familiar figure to many people in this area. He was also the lowest bidder for the second unit of lines.
The J.B. McCrary Company was selected as the engineer on the first project.
The office work increased rapidly after completion of the second unit of line, and more help was needed. The Board of Directors selected Miss Laura Elizabeth McCurley as stenographer. The fine outside crew was composed of Sam H. Boy, an experienced lineman from Knoxville, Tennessee, Bill Sanders of Carnesville, Georgia, and Cecil Adams of Hartwell, Georgia. The outside crew had the reputation of answering trouble calls at the midnight hour, through rain, mud, sleet, or snow with a smile.
The first Hart County Electric Membership Corporation Annual Meeting was held on January 18, 1939. Only members of the first project were allowed to vote at this first annual meeting.
1940 – 1969
n 1940, Georgia Electric Membership Corporation (GEMC) was founded as a nonprofit organization for the purpose of providing services to the rural electric cooperatives in the state of Georgia. The services provided today by GEMC are in the areas of legislative representation, management training, and safety programs, as well as public relations activities. GEMC is financed by dues and revenues.
In the following months and years up to the beginning of World War II, the cooperative continued to expand its services. It seemed that engineers and construction men were falling behind in the efforts to serve the membership, but already the Directors were beginning to realize their early vision and dreams of bringing electricity to the farm homes of the rural counties was a true possibility. Growth was slowed down during the war, but since that time, the growth of Hart County EMC has been constant and continuing.
Seven employees worked in a modern building erected in Hartwell in 1942. They handled the records and business transactions of the cooperative. Twenty-five outside workmen used nine trucks in building new lines and maintaining established lines. This was certainly advancement from the first lines being built with horses and wagons and the help of neighbors and volunteers.
In 1948, ten years after the first electric lines were energized; the cooperative had invested well over $1,000,000 to build 1,155 miles of line to bring electric service to 5,232 members. These 5,232 members used 411,196 kilowatt hours of electricity in 1948 to light their homes, prepare and preserve their food, pump the water, and innumerable other things to make life easier. With the ending of World War II, two different construction contracts had been completed and one was in progress. Plans had been completed for a dream come true – area coverage.Due to the continued growth and expansion, in 1956, the Hart County EMC moved into its new facilities on the Elberton Highway in Hartwell, Georgia.
1970 to the Present
In 1977, an addition of 3,250 square feet was added to this facility. In 1990 and addition expansion project was undertaken. In 1971, the cooperative purchased a warehouse in Toccoa, Georgia. This property addition helped the cooperative to better serve the consumers in the northern part of our service area. In 1974, Oglethorpe Power Corporation (OPC) was founded by the Georgia distribution cooperatives, including Hart County EMC, for the purpose of generating and transmitting electric power to 39 of Georgia’s EMC’s. In 1989, in keeping with the trend among cooperatives and to better reflect our service area the company name was changed to Hart Electric Membership Corporation.
Throughout the long history of the cooperative, its management has always tried to anticipate the needs of its members so that the necessary facilities would be available when desired. The growth of the organization has far exceeded the visions and dreams of its founders.
Over six decades ago, a revolution swept through our rural areas that forever changed the face of the countryside. The idea of people working together for a common goal drew rural people together as never before, and the idea became one of the most amazing stories ever – the electrification of rural America. The same principal that brought lights to rural Georgia keeps the rural electric systems working today, the principle of working together.
It has been said that the greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your home. This was the dream of a group of dedicated people who met at Sardis School back in August of 1936. Thanks to their daring to dream, we each have the opportunity of flipping a switch and lighting up our world. “The night the lights came on” is often recorded as a high moment in people’s lives, an important date, ranking with marriages and births as a day to cherish – as a day when visions and dreams became a reality.