It was an interesting couple of days for the Newton Falls Public Library staff, when three patrons asked related questions. “Do you have any information about the dam over the West Branch of the Mahoning River, such as who built it and when?” “I was always told that the hydro-electric plant that was once located on the West Branch of the Mahoning River was the first in the country. Is that true?” “I’m interested in the viability of hydro-electric power. The old plant in Warren powered motors, but did not actually supply electric for the city. How about the plant in Newton Falls?”
Page 15 of the History of Newton Falls noted that after river improvements were made in 1923, Samuel Oviatt erected the first dam and built a sawmill at that location on the river. In 1908, the Hydro-Electric Company power plant was built at the site . . . “and the dam was reconstructed to be 60 feet long and provide an 18 foot head [pp. 99-100].” After a hole was discovered in the spillway in 1988, the dam was repaired that summer by community volunteers.
In reference to the second question, the staff learned that “on September 30, 1882, the world's first hydroelectric power plant began operation on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin.” In 1881, “Niagra Falls was the first of the American hydroelectric power sites developed for major generation and is still a source of electric power today. The early hydroelectric plants were direct current stations built to power arc and incandescent lighting during the period from about 1880 to 1895.” Since the Newton Falls Hydro-Electric Company power plant was built in 1908, it was not the first.
The answer the final question was also found in the History of Newton Falls. In 1908, [Newton Falls] “city passed ordinance for perpetual franchise to Peerless Electric [then purchased by Hydro-Electric Company] to supply electric service to the village . . . [pp. 99-100].”