Serving Barnwell County and it's neighbors since 1852

Elements of our rich history and heritage: The night the lights came on

As remembered and researched by Perry Sprawls


For the farm and rural families throughout Barnwell County, an unforgettable night back in the 1940s was when they fliped a switch and there was light. A bright light flooding the room replacing the old kerosine lamps that had to be filled frequently, smokey chimneys cleaned, and carefully carried around from room to room as needed. For me on the Sprawls Farm near Williston, this was in 1941.
For many years, the more densely populated towns had electricity provided by the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, but the rural areas were not included. It was too expensive for a commercial company to build long lines to reach the rural homes scattered throughout the County, sometimes miles apart.
The Rural Electrification Act (REA), passed in 1936, was one of many New Deal proposals by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to remedy high unemployment during the Great Depression and improve the quality of life for citizens, especially in the rural areas. It provided federal loans to rural electric cooperatives that were organized and governed by the rural residents, usually the farmers. The Edisto Electric Cooperative, founded in 1939, serves Barnwell County.
As the cooperatives were developed, Rural Electrification was underway with the construction of power lines, wiring homes and installing lights on the farms.
The availability of electricity was a life-changing event for every family…transitioning from the demanding lifestyle of their rural families and ancestors to the benefits of the many electrical conveniences we enjoy today.
For many, the first appliance purchased was an electric iron for clothes replacing the heavy irons that had to be heated in the fireplace or on the woodburning kitchen stove. For families when they could afford it, the major event was the installation of an electric water pump and plumbing in the house for the kitchen, and especially the bathroom and indoor toilet! Electric refrigerators soon replaced the old ice boxes in the kitchen providing for a more variety of foods to be enjoyed. The electric stove replaced the wood burning stove and the necessity to cut and bring in wood every day.
For the farm families who raised vegetables and hogs for butchering, large chest-type freezers called deep freezers made it possible to have a variety of foods throughout the year. These freezers were often promoted and sold by the cooperatives. The electric hot water heater and washing machine moved clothes washing indoors from washing by hand in tubs in the backyard and building fires to heat the water…in all kinds of weather. And for news and entertainment, there were electrically powered radios that did not require ordering large and expensive batteries from Sears and Roebuck.
It was the cooperative effort of farmers and other rural residents in Barnwell County back in the 1940s that transitioned their living conditions from that of previous generations to the lifestyle we enjoy today, with rural electrification.
Perry Sprawls’ activities to preserve the history and heritage of Barnwell County includes providing the Barnwell County Virtual Museum online at: