In the fall of 1902, Captain William Patrick Lay, of Gadsden, began construction of a small hydro electric generating plant at the site of Wesson Mill on Big Wills Creek, just southwest of Attalla. The plant was constructed, in Lay's words, "First to supply the City of Attalla with electricity; second, to pump water into a tall stand pipe which would furnish Attalla with water; and third, to demonstrate the possibilities and economy of hydro electric power for which I had been contending for a number of years preceding." When the plant was completed, a line was strung from the 75-horsepower turbine driven generator, over the mountain to a light on a pole in the heart of Attalla. Captain lay himself threw the switch, bringing electricity to the community.
Four years later, on December 4th, 1906, Captain Lay organized the Alabama Power Company. Drawing on the success of his experiment at Big Wills Creek, Captain Lay focused his attention on an ambitious plan to develop a high dam and power plant at Lock 12 on the Coosa River. Lock 12 dam, now called Lay Dam, was the first large scale hydro plant built by Alabama Power Company and along with subsequent hydro and steam generating plants, became the foundation on which Southern Company system of integrated power companies is based today.
When Alabama Power Company reorganized in 1912 and acquired the Attalla system, it discovered that in order to enlist the support of Attalla in the Big Wills Creek project, Captain Lay had agreed to provide the city with free electricity for lighting. That agreement transferred to Alabama Power Company and to this day, schools and other city buildings have two meters—one for free lights and another for billed service.