In 1889, the City of Anderson contracted with a 26 year old native son, an engineering graduate of the University of South Carolina, to build a steam power plant and water system for the city. Keeping up with the engineering achievements of the day, William Church Whitner became convinced that the long distance transmission of electric energy using hydropower would be developed in Anderson. On May 1, 1895, a group of Anderson's business and community leaders ventured to McFall's Mill at High Shoals on the Rocky River to witness history or to watch Whitner's folly, whichever the case. W.C. Whitner, chief engineer of the Anderson Water, Light, and Power Company, had rented space in McGill's grist and flour mill to install an experimental 5,000 volt alternating current generator to attempt to generate and transmit electric power 6 miles from there to the water system pumps at the Tribble Street power and water yard in Anderson. It Worked! This was the first successful long distance transmission of electricity in the South.
Based upon this success, Mr. Whitner was able to secure the financial backing to construct a larger dam and power plant at Portman Shoals on the Seneca River, 11 miles west of this spot. At Portman Shoals, the Anderson Water, Light, and Power Company built a 10,000 volt generator facility. When it was placed in service on November 1, 1897, the Portman Shoals Power Plant was the first hydroelectric facility to generate high voltage power without step-up transformers in the nation and perhaps in the world. These generators served not only the Anderson water system, the city street lights, other commercial interests and private homes, but more importantly, Anderson Cotton Mill, the first cotton mill in the South to be operated by electricity transmitted over long distance lines. The course of industrial development in the South was forever changed. Due to its "unlimited" supply of electric power, The Charleston News and Courier dubbed Anderson "The Electric City" in 1895.
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This generator, manufactured by Westinghouse Electric Company on March 28, 1911, was one of 5 similar units still in service at the Portman Shoals Power Plant on December 9, 1960, when the plant was shut down for the final time due to impending flooding by the waters of Lake Hartwell. It was displayed for many years at the Coleman Recreation Center on Murray Avenue. This is an Alternating Current Generator that produced 1,390 KVA at 2,300 volts and 303 amps per terminal. It generated 2 phase, 60 cycle power and operated at 225 rpm. While the original generators at Portman Shoals were destroyed by flooding due to dam breaks and electric fires that plagued the plant in its first years, this generator was nonetheless manufactured at a time when electric power generation was in its infancy.
[Reverse, Rightmost Marker]: Building upon his early success in Anderson, William Church Whitner developed hydroelectric power generating stations for a number of communities throughout the South, including Columbus, Griffin, and Elberton, Georgia. One of his earliest employees was a young Citadel engineering graduate named William States Lee. At the Catawba River in York County, South Carolina, he partnered with Dr. W. Gill Wylie. The Catawba Plant experienced financial difficulties and Mr. Whitner was offered and accepted a job with Virginia Railway and Power Company in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Wylie later found funding to complete the Catawba project, using Whitner's original design, in one of his patients, James B. Duke, who was interested in investing in this new idea of long distance transmission of hydroelectric power. Of course, the history of Duke Energy Corporation and the role played by W.S. (Bill) Lee and Dr. Wylie is one of the great success stories in the industrialization of the southern United States.