Desperate for economic growth, following the Civil War, Fredericksburg embraced the technological innovation of hydroelectricity. In 1887, a local ﬁrm converted an old grist mill near the Falmouth Bridge to an electric generating plant. In 1901, the local government built its own hydroelectric facility, calling it the City Electric Light Works.
The municipal power plant remained in operation until 1919. lts output, however, was direct current (DC), which has a limited range. The more substantial Embrey Power Station, constructed in 1910, generated alternating current (AC), which can be transmitted greater distances. It provided electric power well beyond the city limits.
Electriﬁcation had a profound impact on the area's industrial development. Factories could be removed from places susceptible to river ﬂooding and built closet to rail connections and roadways. The Embrey Plant closed in the 1960s, when a nuclear plant became operational on the North Anna River.
Capt. McCracken, Chairman of the Light Committee, reported three bids for the erection and installation of an Electric Light Plant for lighting the streets of the city (City Council meeting of June 15, 1900).
The transition from hydromechanical power to hydroelectricity is evident in this 1909
photo of the concrete Embry Dam being constructed across the Rappahannock River. The Fredericksburg Water Power Company's stone and timber dam, which can be seen just upstream, would be covered by the new reservoir.
The City Electric Light Works, whose wheel pit is visible in front of you, powered city lights for 18 years. The Embry Power Station, to your left front, remained operational for 50 years. (Image courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources)
In 2004, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demolished the 1910 Embry Dam and the 1854 Fredericksburg Water Power Co. dam. Removal of this industrial infrastructure provides significant environmental benefits to Virginia fisheries.