A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2014 - December 2015
State Historic Site
Trail End overlooking Sheridan, circa 1912 (Gwinn Collection, SCHS)
Early arc lighting, Main Street, Sheridan (SCHS Collection, TESHS)
LIKE MOST SHERIDAN homes built in the early 1910s, indoor plumbing and electricity were part of Trail End’s original design. Power lines were strung throughout the town, and water and sewer lines were available in the Nielsen Heights subdivision well before the mansion’s construction began.
From its beginnings in 1882, the town of Sheridan had been illuminated only by candlelight and lamplight. In the spring of 1893, however, electricity finally came to town. It “flashed its presence” on a spring Saturday night at the Sheridan Inn:
Hundreds of people were attracted by the grand illumination which followed. Every room in the big building was lit up, and the scene was a pleasing and inspiring one. In a short time now, the city will be lit entirely by electricity and the lights will be kept burning from dusk until dawn.
A concerted effort was begun to get electricity to the rest of Sheridan. Stocks were sold in a new power company, city leaders authorized the installation of carbon arc streetlights, and poles were erected. Wires were strung from pole to pole and to businesses and homes. The “much-talked-of, greatly-needed and to-be-hoped-for” light plant began operation in late August 1893: "The electric lights were put in operation Tuesday evening and appeared to give good satisfaction. The only complaint we heard was to the effect that the arc [street] lights were hung too low."
Trail End has dozens of light fixtures, by the way, requiring 250 or more light bulbs. To get the best price, the Kendricks ordered their 15 and 25 watt frosted Mazda bulbs in bulk directly from General Electric. The push-button light switches, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, were the most modern available.
For more on Sheridan's electrical revolution, visit our on-line exhibit, Independent of the Sun.
LUMPS OF COAL
Electricity was used to light Trail End, but not to heat it. Instead, a pair of steam boilers manufactured by Kroeschell Brothers of Chicago, Illinois, burned tons of coal a year, all of which had to be moved from the coal bin (under the back driveway) to the boilers. This was hard, time-consuming labor. Manville Kendrick recalled that an automatic stoker – a device that supplied fuel to the boilers by mechanical means – was installed in the 1920s.
The coal burned at Trail End (and most Sheridan homes) came from underground mines located north of Sheridan in the Tongue River valley. A dozen or so mines operated there in the early 1900s, including Dietz, Acme, Carney, Monarch, Kooi, Riverside, Higby and Model. Workers would load the coal onto railroad cars, which dropped it off at local coal yards Individual deliveries were then made to households by horse-drawn wagon (later by truck).
When the Model Mine supplied coal to Trail End in 1914, the cost was about $2.50 per ton. That might seem inexpensive compared to today’s prices, but when you factor in inflation, that $2.50 equals $58 in today’s money – which is about what a ton of coal costs right now in Sheridan.