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Rural Electrification


Electric service, when it came to rural West Virginia in the third and fourth decades of the 20th century, helped ease the drudgery of country living. Electricity reduced the labor of women, in particular. One of the first electrical appliances purchased in rural homes was the refrigerator, since block ice was not readily available in the country. Another important acquisition was the electric water pump, which eliminated the need to carry water. Washing machines took much of the work out of laundry day and produced better results, as did electric irons. Farm Women’s Clubs began promoting acceptance and safe usage of electricity with the support of the West Virginia University Agricultural Extension Service. Sponsored by power companies, a demonstration site for farm electrification was built in 1940 at the Jackson’s Mill state 4-H camp.

Electricity generated from natural gas had brought streetlights to the citizens of Parkersburg in 1888, the first use of commercial electric power in the state. By soon after the turn of the 20th century many urban areas used electricity in businesses and residences, but there was less incentive for power companies to run electric lines to sparsely populated rural areas. When the Rural Electrification Administration was created in 1935 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, less than ten percent of farms in West Virginia had electricity. The REA offered long-term, self-liquidating loans to state and local governments, farmers’ cooperatives, and nonprofit organizations to provide electric service to farmers and rural residents.

When a 1935 government survey of 50,000 rural West Virginians revealed a large market eager for electricity, the industry moved to meet the demand before nonprofit competitors could do so. Private power companies vigorously opposed the creation of REA cooperatives, and apparently only two such co-ops were successfully established in the state. Co-op organizers believed their efforts, while often unsuccessful in themselves, were the catalyst for public utilities taking action to install rural electric lines.

In 1937, the Harrison Rural Electrification Association was established and within two years succeeded in gaining electrical service at reasonable rates for its 743 members. By 1940, the Hardy County Light and Power Association served 142 members, while the Craig- Botetourt Electric Cooperative served 119 Monroe Countians from its base in neighboring Virginia. The Harrison Rural Electrification Association, based in Clarksburg, had grown to 4,713 customers by 1989 with 724 miles of line in Harrison, Barbour, Upshur, Lewis, Doddridge, Marion, and Taylor counties.

Progress by a Monroe County farmers’ electric co-op in the late 1930s was put on hold during World War II as the economy shifted to military production. After the war the Monroe co-op organizers tried again, but the power company began building the lines that finally brought rural electricity to the county.

Some parts of West Virginia are still served by electric co-ops. A portion of Monroe County is still served by the Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative. The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, which purchased Hardy County Power and Light in 1954, is also based in Virginia; it supplies electricity to some residents in the Eastern Panhandle. The Harrison Rural Electrification Association continues to serve north-central West Virginia.

The balance of West Virginia’s residential electric needs is provided by two power companies, Appalachian Power Company, serving the southwestern part of the state and the Northern Panhandle, and Mon Power, which provides electric to central and eastern West Virginia. Coal remains by far the most important source of electric power generated in the state. The REA was abolished in 1994 and its functions were assumed under the Rural Utilities Service.

Written by Scot E. Long


  1. Thomas, Jerry Bruce. An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

  2. Ellison, Helen S. Electricity Comes to the Country. Goldenseal, (Summer 1989).