Merrill Historical Society opens ‘Power Up’ exhibit: The Evolution of WPS in Lincoln County
On Friday, Oct. 4, the Merrill Historical Society (MHS) unveiled a new exhibit done in collaboration with Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) and sponsored by a grant from the WPS Foundation.
Current WPS employees and retirees took part in the open house on Friday, Oct. 4, from 4-6 p.m. at the Merrill History & Culture Center. On Saturday, Oct. 5, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., MHS hosted an open house for the public to unveil the WPS exhibit with light refreshments and two bus trips to Grandfather Falls.
According to a press release from the historical society, hydropower started in the 1800s and is still in use today as a major generator of electricity. WPS owns and operates four hydroelectric facilities on the Wisconsin River in Lincoln County – Alexander Hydro, Grandfather Falls Hydro, Merrill Hydro and Tomahawk Hydro. The first Merrill dam was built under the supervision of Andrew Warren in 1849 in the small village of Jenny and led to the early generation of electricity for sawmills, businesses and homes. Street lights went up, and the Merrill Railway and Lighting Company started the second Wisconsin electric trolley line in 1890.
This new exhibit will feature the history of the dams, the workers who built them and their continued use today. We also explore the importance of the electricity we have come to take for granted as a part of our daily life. A direct current (DC) system was developed in Merrill and studied by Leland Stanford University. This study guided rapid strides in the development of electricity in the late 1880s.
The Historical Society would like to thank Elroy Lemke, Al Lokemoen and George Henrichs for their assistance and knowledge in putting this exhibit together.
The main part of this exhibit will be semi-permanent. There will be related displays shown through January.
“Seeing this exhibit means a lot to me,” said Elroy Lemke, retired WPS Lineman of 40 years. “Working for WPS was my whole life. I really loved to climb and it was so easy for me. I really enjoyed myself.”