Centennial Anniversary of Duke Power
Native son William Church Whitner developed the concept and spearheaded financing for the first hydroelectric plant to transmit power over a long distance in the South. On May 1, 1895, electricity travelled six miles from a generator at High Shoals on the Rocky River to downtown Anderson, S.C.
Whitner was born in 1864 and attended the University of South Carolina. After considering law, he chose a degree in Civil Engineering in 1885. He set out as a railroad engineer, but soon contracted typhoid fever. He was at home in Anderson recuperating when in 1889 the city hired him to build an electric plant and system for running water. He completed a steam engine in 1890, as a source for electricity, but his attention soon turned to hydropower as a more cost effective alternative. Whitner sought the advice of Nicola Tesla, famous for his work with (and later against) Thomas Edison and the invention of the alternating current motor. Whitner returned to Anderson in 1894 with designs for an AC-driven hydropower plant in hand. Less than a year later, the High Shoals Experiment succeeded and Whitner collected investors for the much larger Portman Shoals Hydroelectric Station on the Seneca River, completed in 1897. That plant transmitted electricity 11 miles, the longest line in the United States at that time. It was this harnessing of "white fire" and its delivery which caused Anderson to be called "The Electric City" — applicable then, as applicable today!
Whitner would later marry Katherine Roddey of Rock Hill and partner with Dr. Gill Wylie to form the Catawba River Company, forerunner of Duke Power. This sculpture by artist Zan Wells was unveiled on October 12, 2004. Given to the citizens of Anderson to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Duke Power. A grant from the Duke Foundation, secured by the Anderson County Arts Center, made this sculpture the first in our community's Public Art Series. It depicts Whitner peering up, watch in hand, waiting for the street lights to illuminate with the power his plant supplied. "The Man Behind the Idea" lives on in the hearts of this community which now reaps the benefit of his lasting contribution.
The Whitner Sculpture Committee
John M. Geer, Jr., Regional Director, Duke Power
Kimberly H. Spears, Executive Director, Anderson Arts Center
Richard A. Shirley, Mayor of Anderson
Joey R. Preston, Anderson County Administrator
John A. Miller, Jr., President, ANMED Health
F. Stevon Kay, President, Hill Electric
The committee gratefully acknowledges William B. Pickens for the gift of the Antique Streetlight from the city's past and the lifelong passion of the late Beth Ann Klosky, Anderson Historian, for chronicling the events of Mr. Whitner's life.