• Sunday , 22 October 2017

Did Bronxville have lights when the rest of the region was dark?

The below tale was told in a series of documents prepared by our former president, George H.C. Lawrence, for the company’s 1988 centennial. George was the grandson of Arthur C. Lawrence and great-grandson of our founder, William Van Duzer Lawrence.

Was Bronxville really the only place with lights during the Great Northeast Blackout of November, 1965? Is this merely an apocryphal tale?

The story is oft told that the only people who had power when the entire northeastern part of the U.S. was blacked out by the mega-power failure of November, 1965, were the residents of Bronxville. But is it true?

The fact is that while not every resident of Bronxville did, those who lived in the part of the village developed by the Lawrences and served by the little Lawrence Park Heat, Light & Power Co. really did.

The Lawrences had built their power plant in 1905, primarily to provide steam to heat their new Hotel Gramatan. Generating electricity was a byproduct, but a useful one. The company subsequently provided electricity (as well as steam heat to its larger commercial and apartment buildings) through much of the village.

lp-power
The Lawrence Park plant’s smokestack pokes up from behind William Lawrence’s Studio Arcade building, completed 1909.

Originally a coal-fired plant, it was converted to an oil-burning plant in the 1950s. In 1959 the power company was sold to the General Waterworks Co. It sold the then-outmoded plant in 1975 to Energy Resources Unlimited. Despite making a major investment to improve the plant, it was no longer practical to operate. The plant was closed in the mid-1980s. Con Edison now supplies all of Bronxville’s power.

However, the tale of Bronxville having the only lights in the Northeast during the Great Blackout lives on, another testimony to the inventiveness and independence of William V. Lawrence and his family.

Lucia Meigs Andrews, a granddaughter of William, in her book¬†Sketches of Lawrence Enterprises 1888-1934, offers the proof. Recalling the blackout, she reported that Bernard Bosch, the longtime operating engineer of the Lawrence Park Heat, Light and Power Co., had said of the Blackout of ’65: “When New York City and everywhere was dark as pitch, Barney and I looked out the window and there were OUR lights all on and shining as bright as always.”

The Lawrence Park plant was demolished in 1988. When it ceased operation, it was the only privately-owned utility in Westchester County, and the smallest in New York State.

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