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A Story of Light: Sam Houston EC’s Humble Beginnings

A Story of Light: Sam Houston EC’s Humble Beginnings

Sam Houston Electric Cooperative is gearing up for a special year in 2014—a yearlong celebration of 75 years serving the residents of East Texas.

Although the Cooperative received its charter from the State of Texas on May 16, 1939, there were many milestones leading up to this special day.

This month, we’re taking a look back and celebrating the founding of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative—a big step for rural East Texas electrification on Aug. 27, 1938.

It’s a story that begins in darkness and ends in light. Generations of rural Americans struggled to “get lights” and bring the wonders of electricity to the vast areas not served in the United States. How these residents accomplished that goal is a true story of trial and triumph.

The 1930s were plagued by hardship and drudgery as nearly 90 percent of rural residents lived and labored in the dark. But beginning in 1935, there came hope. The federal government had a plan for rural residents to help themselves. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that same year creating the Rural Electrification Administration, the “REA Movement” spread rapidly throughout the nation. For after that, rural America had the power to organize cooperatively and qualify for loans to electrify their homes.

Like many electric co-ops, Sam Houston Electric Cooperative struggled during its early development. It’s said that the application submitted to the REA was denied at least twice before final approval was received. An electric cooperative in the rugged piney woods of East Texas was not expected to survive and flourish, but we are forever thankful our founding members were determined to prove otherwise.

In the mid-1930s, county agent W. S. Childerss held a meeting at his office in Livingston. At the time, the REA distributed a set of guidelines outlining how rural residents could start an electrification project of their own. The guidelines were read aloud to the recorded 40 citizens in attendance, and a unanimous vote was cast in favor of an REA project in Polk County.

A group of volunteers then formed a committee with the sole mission of gathering completed applications from their friends, families and neighbors—each application being a statement of interest in constructing an electric cooperative in the area.

In the meantime, county agent Childerss began exchanging written correspondence in early 1938 with P. T. Montfort, research associate in the agricultural engineering department at what is now Texas A&M University. There, Childerss was offered additional contacts, resources and guidance on the proposed REA project.

However, Childerss wasn’t alone in his efforts to bring an electric cooperative to fruition. A. J. Smith, Oscar L. Munson, Mrs. L. S. Stanford and W. C. Swilley would become Sam Houston EC’s first board officers, and were driving forces through it all.

As word spread of the proposed REA project, Childerss gained support in surrounding counties as they, too, had similar ideas for rural electrification. Under the suggestion of an REA official, they combined efforts to expand the footprint of the new cooperative—one can only guess as a means of fortifying their proposal of a project that had already been deemed impossible.

On Aug. 27, 1938, the articles of incorporation for Sam Houston Electric Cooperative Inc. were drafted and a rural electric cooperative was born.

In January 1939, petitions were filed by surrounding county agents to procure rural electric service for Polk, Tyler, Hardin, San Jacinto and Trinity Counties. Days later, Childerss received a response from the REA stating that funds were limited in Texas; however, an REA field representative would be sent to check the area under consideration.

A few months later, the persistence of our founding members finally paid off.

On May 12, 1939, archived ledgers show a payment of $10.10 to the Secretary of State for the charter of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative Inc. On May 16, 1939, the charter was granted, and this, my friends, is where our story of light begins.