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History of Brainerd’s Electrical System

The first electrical system was started in December 1882. Brainerd city fathers passed an ordinance granting the Brainerd Electric & Light the right to construct and operate a system of electric lighting for a period of 10 years.

However, difficulties prevented the company to begin construction of a power plant and the ordinance was later repealed. In 1884, another ordinance was passed granting another private firm the right to furnish electrical power to the city. This firm failed to live up to the ordinance although it did construct a power plant that was able to give Brainerd its first look at electric street lighting on October 8, 1887.

In 1905, the city of Brainerd was operating its own power plant when a fire destroyed the plant. Attempts by both private firms and others by the city, to give reliable electric service to Brainerd failed.

An arrangement was then made with the Northern Pacific Railroad, which had its own power plant, to furnish the city with electricity. This arrangement went along fine for a few years, but by 1908 the use of electricity had increased to such an extent that Northern Pacific’s Plant could no longer carry the extra load.

In November 1910, a franchise was issued to a St. Paul engineering firm to provide the city with electrical power. The company built a plant at the East End of Laurel Street and used gas as a fuel to run generators. Its service, like many of its predecessors, proved unsatisfactory and in 1913 the company went out of business.

While all this electrical turmoil was taking place in Brainerd, an outside company was coming into its own and furnishing reliable electric service. This was the Cuyuna Range Power Company.

In 1912 the city of Brainerd and Cuyuna Range Power Company signed a contract to furnish power to the city, then along came American Power and Light Company which through its subsidiary, Minnesota Power and Light, Duluth, bought Cuyuna Range properties and furnished electricity to Brainerd.

Wooden Water Mains

Did you know that Brainerd once had wooden water mains? They were originally laid by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881. They were used to convey water from the Mississippi River to the newly built N.P. Shops. The mains were abandoned in 1918 when the city of Brainerd laid its pipe system.

The wooden water mains were held together by steel bands and sealed with pitch. The Crow Wing County Museum has on display a piece of one of these mains.

Water Tower

The contract for this elevated storage tank was let in 1918; it is located on the southeast corner of Washington and Sixth Streets.

The all-concrete landmark has been dry since 1960. The tower is 129 feet tall from its crown-like top to the ground level. The observation ledge is 90 feet above the ground. Inside the tower a 20-foot ladder leads to a hatch, which is at the bottom of the tower’s bowl. The sky can be seen as the hatch is opened to access the inside of the bowl lined with red brick, which once held 300,000 gallons of water. Inside the bowl is a 40-foot freestanding ladder, which rises to the top of the bowl. (Brainerd Daily Dispatch, 25 May 2003)