Welcome to the Macon, MO Sesquicentennial Celebration!
Welcome to the Macon, MO Sesquicentennial Celebration!
The City of Maples Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary!

Macon Municipal Utilities - The First 20 Years

By Merlyn Amidei

A Lamplighter - The First Official 'Utilities' ProviderLet your mind and imagination turn back almost 115 years ago. You are in downtown Macon standing at the corner of Bourke and Rollins by the Belsher Store looking south. It is dusk with the evening shadows beginning to cast eerie figures against the Macon Bank, Mac's Clothes Shop, and other fine businesses on the east side of Rollins. Gradually you see Mr. Martin Muff approaching. Behind him there begin to appear small dim yellowish/orange glows. As you approach, you notice he is carrying a pole with a fire on the end. As he stops to raise the pole another glow slowly appears. Then you realize Mr. Muff is the lamplighter and is lighting the town's square glass kerosene lamps that sit atop the five foot wooden posts. You wave and say good evening to him, knowing he'll be back at dawn to extinguish the light. That's how lighting in Macon began.

John Scovern was mayor and H.A. Butler was hired by the city as Superintendent of the power plant for $1080 per year. He was responsible for the plant day and night. He also hired his own help and paid them out of his own salary. One of those men he hired was Muff.

A power plant was built on the East Fork where it would have access to water and coal from Number 46 mine. In 1889 it is recorded that Macon spent $700 a year to light the city and another $525 a year for the lamplighter. In 1890 the city fathers decided there needed to be more light for safety. An ordinance was approved that allowed for the construction, maintenance and operation of an Electric Works. In July of that same year by an overwhelming majority vote of 636 yes to 9 no votes an amended ordinance that included both electric and waterworks system was approved. Twenty-one arc electric lights were installed that would burn all night at a cost of less than $2500 per year.

At this time the electric was run by "a small Rice, automatic high speed steam engine and an Excellsior belt driven direct current generator to run fifty 2000 cp arc lights on street corners downtown and in some businesses. Two 100 horsepower steam boilers furnished power for the pumps and generating equipment. The 40 by 60 foot brick building housed the water plant equipment consisting of two Dean reciprocating steam driven pumps. Next to the plant sat the small brick lined storage and settling basin. With water purification more than two decades away, the muddy water was pumped to town primarily for fire protection and mechanical purposes covering the business streets and the light plant. When in full force the water supply received direct from the pumps was 170 pounds to the square inch." For personal use and consumption, most citizens pumped from their own cisterns or wells. The wells at the Courthouse and downtown on the corner of Vine and Rubey were used by the volunteer fire department along with the 26 fire hydrants in the business district.

Turner Cigar Factory, a milling factory, Massey Wagon Factory and other businesses were setting up shop in the booming town of Macon. However, in the fall of 1893 the wagon factory burned. The plant was so far from the nearest hydrant that only one hose could be used. The firemen could not contain the fire because the water pressure was so low. Other fires over the years posed the same problem.

In 1894 a new fire company was organized by the City. Fifteen men with one chief in charge. Gary, Gieselmann and McCanne were members of the first Fire Committee of the Council. They drew up the ordinances providing pay for the firemen and for regulating their duties and pay. That same year was a drought but by being conservative Macon's water supply held out. Just south of the city mill on the east side of Rubey, south of the railroad tracks, and just south of Butler Street, Macon put in public watering troughs - 3'4" x 3' 6" x 4' 6" deep - which held about four pails of water. The utility workers cleaned and flooded all the sewers with water and lime, leaving them in good condition. The city was able to keep its contract with the Wabash by placing a pump at the city pond to keep the tank filled. Some customers were without water from October 1894 until March 1895 until the Spring rain began the the cisterns were once again filled. By the end of 1895 Macon was prospering again. Palfrey Boiler, Foundry and Machine Works opened and soon the Carriage Factory, Scissors Factory, ice factory and cold storage plant opened. The electric and waterworks plants were improved and the citizens of Macon were satisfied as S.D. Lamb took office as Mayor.

After Captain Rodger's brick factory had opened on Waterworks road in 1898, Colonel Blees proposed to donate $5000 of the $20,000-$25,000 needed towards the building of a city sewer system. Theodore Gary was instrumental in getting a special election held. An ordinance was passed (711 yes to 8 no) to authorize the construction of a six foot circular sewer that would discharge 47,724 gallons of water per minute. Over a million bricks were used during the construction of the sewer.

In 1901 the Power Plant moved to Vine Street after the Number 46 mine closed. A railroad switch was built to it and coal arrived at the furnace door. During that year while the Burlington railroad was reducing its grade through town, another drought hit and the water supply at East Fork gave out. "In one day a large force of men ran pipes out to the Blees Military Academy's lakes, erected a small upright pump engine, and flooded all the mains with clear suitable water. One and a half miles above the original dam on East Fork, men with steam shovels and other apparatus, built a new concrete dam reservoir for storage of water on the Wardell farm." The improvement served Macon but talks really began to develop that Macon needed a lake in the Duck Creek Bottom west of town. In 1904 a fine team of horses, Fred and Ned, were added to the fire department.

Due to a coal shortage and strike in 1906, Macon shut down the Electric Light plant during the evening until an ample supply of coal was obtained. Also at that time 3.5 acres of land was purchased (behind and to the east of Lolli's Sale Barn) to use for future septic tank and sewer needs. Rubey wanted to take the plants out of the hands of the City Council and put them in charge of two Democrats and two Republicans appointed by the Mayor - thus the Board of Public Works was formed with rotating members. The first Board consisted of F.W. Gieselmann for four years, John W. Thompson for three years, Thomas A. Still for two years and R. Allen Guthrie for one year. The Board was short lived. When Otho F. Matthews became mayor, an ordinance was passed to abolished the Board. The plants were then placed in the hands of a committee made up of three council members appointed by the mayor.

Rubey Street Looking North - August 22, 1911 - Photo Courtesy of Billy FrankeNow the year is 1910 ... Zing, clunk goes a new automobile along Vine Street avoiding a horse and buggy. You are in Jaeger Brothers Hardware and when you exit you are thinking about playing a game of pool at Turner Billiards. But you see Mr. Muff coming across the street from the First National Bank. He's going to pick up his mail so you decide to walk along with him. Together you pass Craig Jewelers, Soldan Drug, State Street Bank, Davis & Company Millery, the tailor shop and barber shop. Your noses begin to twitch from the myriad of scintillating aromas wafting slowly out of the Stahlmann Bakery and Comella's Confectionery, but you resist the temptation and continue on past the Singer Sewing Machine Company, Trew Millinery and the Busch & Overstreet Meat Market. Finally you arrive at the Post Office. Postmaster S.J. Wilson steps out to the street with you and the conversation is centered on the new white-way lights that were just installed around the business block and all the way along Rollins to the Courthouse. Some have a cluster of three lights with one on top and two on the side; others have a cluster of five. The poles are exactly the same distance apart and directly across the street from each other.

Muff says, "You know fellows, things have sure changed since I walked these streets every morning and evening".

"Yeah," Wilson responds, "and one of these days we'll probably be asked to pay more taxes for all this".


Macon has the 6th oldest public utilities west of the Mississippi and the 3rd oldest in Missouri. The Macon Municipal Utilities is one of a handful in the United States, and the smallest city, to provide electricity, natural gas, water, waste-water treatment and dial-up Internet services to its customers.

Information collected from A History of Macon Municipal Utilities, Macon papers and Robert DeVore.

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Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Macon, Missouri at the Macon, MO Sesquicentennial Celebration!