The hydro-electric dam built across Big Creek
Was crude and short lived

And Then Came Electricity

The White County ice storm that ushered in 1999 knocked out electricity to thousands of residents. The excitement of getting power restored after days in the cold is remindful of the time long ago when electricity first arrived.


The year was 1926. And a new era in living for those in and around Pangburn. The last 20 years had given us the luxury of the automobile, the convenience of the steam-driven locomotive of the Missouri and North Arkansas Railway, and if one looked long and close, an airplane might be spotted in the sky overhead. But as of then, the electric light had not made its appearance in our fair city.

However, our dream of having the relatively new energy was fast taking form in the shape of a hydro-electric dam being built across Big Creek, two miles north of town. The project had been under way now for two years. And with the approaching summer of that year, it was expected to reach completion. For most of us it meant no more time-consuming everyday chore of filling the old kerosene lamp and trimming the wick, as the custom had been since I could remember. But for me, I think the most appreciable part was there would be no more trips to the store carrying a dozen or so eggs to swap for coal oil. For some time the town had buzzed with excitement and activity over the prospect of the new energy. Two theaters were under construction, hurrying to reach completion by the middle of summer. Every man in the vicinity with any basic knowledge of electricity was busy, hurriedly stringing No. 14 wire through the attics of practically every house in town. The spring of 1926 was indeed a busy time for all.

The founding fathers of the newly organized electric company had graced the enterprise with the name “The Big Creek Electric Company.” During the planning stage much speculation went on of the possibility of expansion, probably as far as the Missouri line, some hundred miles away.

Apparently, the company thought little of competition but awoke one morning to find one posed liked a vulture, waiting calmly at their door. During the previous night the Arkansas Power and Light Company, later becoming a giant energy corporation, had set utility poles and strung wire to the town’s south side city limits. Moving equipment around town in the darkness, they continued construction of the line on to Heber Springs.

For several months to follow, there was much controversy as to who would supply electricity to the town. After long days in court, Big Creek Electric was granted the franchise to furnish the city’s electrical needs. However, Arkansas Power was granted easement through town, enabling it to connect to its line on the north side. But the potentially great Arkansas Power and Light did not have long to wait for the opportunity to serve Pangburn. When the devastating spring rains fell in 1927, flooding millions of acres along the Mississippi Valley, the watersheds filled Big Creek beyond its capacity. With the tremendous pressure from the mighty surge, the little earth-filled dam failed to counter the attack, giving way to the angry onrush, ending its usefulness beyond repair.

Those of us served by the struggling little company were gravely saddened, but at the same time considering ourselves very fortunate. We were not to wait long to have our electricity restored. In a few hours, AP&L came to the rescue, even then offering a service unexcelled. Recently, I made a trip to the [Hiram] bluff overlooking the old dam site. Now, there is no evidence a hydro-electric dam ever existed. I looked down some 300 feet at the solid mass of trees covering the valley below. I remembered standing in the very same spot years before while my uncle snapped a picture of the active dam with an old Brownie camera. I also remembered the hustle and bustle that went on below as men resembling ants went about their work around the frame powerhouse. But that was so long ago, I thought. Now, with God’s help and time, it has reverted back to its original state, leaving only memories of what it was once.

As I stood and silently studied the valley below, I suddenly realized destiny had again played a winning hand. No way, even with the amazing success our great engineers have shown us today, could the little earth-filled dam meet the enormous demands it would have been expected to meet.