Wired: Benson brought power to the people

Flat Creek power plant built in 1920. (Courtesy JH Historical Society & Museum [1998.23.22])

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – If you are reading this at home, you have electricity to power your laptop or desk computer. On your mobile device? Still, somewhere along the way, juice is running routers and charging your phone, all in order to get the news from Buckrail.

Ladies got the lights on. Jackson went electric under the all-women rule of the Petticoat council. (Jackson’s Hole Courier)

And we all owe big props to EC Benson, who helped Jackson ‘flip the switch’ nearly 100 years ago. Ed approached convinced town leaders (during the second year of the all-women petticoat town council, by the way) to make him the sole electrician in Jackson with exclusive rights to install powerlines and streetlights in town. Ed was the power company in 1921.

It began in 1918. Benson already had 16 neighbors hooked up to power harnessing the power of Cache Creek running through two turbines. It was a slick operation and proved to Benson he could do it, but it wasn’t enough to keep a few folks powered for more than about three hours a night.

So Benson headed to Flat Creek where constructed a larger power plant in 1920. It was big enough to run Jackson’s 26 homes for about four hours every night. In the last week of January 1921, Jackson was lit up for the first time ever. By March 1921, Benson was advertising for customers to get on the grid.

Benson’s ad appearing in the March 3, 1921 Jackson’s Hole Courier. (Jackson’s Hole Courier)

Always a skeptic

Before the lights came on, there was at least one Jackson resident who did think it would work. Confirmed bachelor Bill Blackburn told Benson that the electric plant would never work.*

“There ain’t a hole in the wire for the electricity to run through,” Blackburn reportedly told Benson.

When proved wrong after Benson turned on the juice, Blackburn went home and got to work on his own ‘lectricity.

If the electric company could make electricity run through solid wire, he could do it, too. Blackburn bought cheap wire, secured a 12-volt auto light, and wired his cabin. He threw loose wire over a 120-volt power line tying wires together.

The next day, Blackburn confronted Benson with a consumer complaint. “Your juice is no good. It is too hot. It set my house on fire.”

How Benson’s power plant on Flat Creek looks today.

Benson eventually beefed up his hydroelectricity plant on Flat Creek with a total of three large turbines after the CCC built Flat Creek Road in 1928-29. The operation was so successful it powered Jackson well into the early 1960s when it was purchased from Benson by Lower Valley Energy.

The structure that housed the turbines on Flat Creek can still be seen today. It’s about 1.5 miles east of the Elk Refuge and National Forest boundary just off Flat Creek Road on the creek (43°32’56.60″N; 110°36’7.93″W).

*”A Place Called Jackson Hole” (John Daugherty)