A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2007 - December 2007
(Trail End Collection)
State Historic Site
IN SHERIDAN, WYOMING, independence from the sun came in 1893 when the first electric lights flashed on at the Sheridan Inn. A few days later, Sheridan’s first electric company was formed. As reported by The Sheridan Post,
The stockholders of the Sheridan Electric Co. met at Coffeen’s hall Saturday evening and organized. One thousand shares of the capital stock have been sold. The plant will be in operation inside of 90 days. The present capacity of the plant will be about 600 incandescent lights, 400 of which have already been applied for. The rates to be charged per month for the use of lights are as follows: For each incandescent light to run all night $1.50; to run until midnight $1.25. Incandescents for residences will be furnished one light for $1.00 or three lights for $2.50.
Soon, anyone who wanted power to light his or her evenings could tie into the municipal system. At first, power was just available in the evening hours. By 1904, however, electricity was available to Sheridan households twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week - proving it to be a modern, progressive community full of modern, progressive homeowners. Said Better Homes & Gardens, "A modern home cannot be called well furnished if it is not well lighted. Lighting is both a science and an art and careful attention to its planning will repay the homeowner many times over in utility, comfort and improved appearance."
John and Eula Kendrick were not afraid of technology or its use in their house. They embraced electricity, putting more fixtures in their Foyer than the average man had in his entire house! When those lights were turned on, Trail End was a welcome sight indeed. Rosa-Maye Kendrick noted upon her return to Trail End one cold September evening in 1926:
In the thick early dusk with the lights of the town coming on one by one like jewels, we swept up our own driveway toward the big house, stopped in the circle of light and warmth from its opened door and knew it could not have been better named: Trail End.
DECORATING WITH LIGHT
Electric lamps do much more than simply light up a room. They add to the comfort and character of it as well, dispelling dangerous shadows and highlighting the homeowner’s choice of decor. When it came time for the early 20th Century homeowner to arrange lighting for the drawing room, living room or parlor, popular magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens were eager to provide instruction as to what type of lighting would enhance a given space:
When is your living room most attractive? By day with sunshine streaming thru the windows, or at night in the mellow light of cleverly placed lamps? With an adequate supply of portable lamps placed where they will throw light just where it is needed, you will be able to obtain a range of lighting effects and the occupants of the room will be sure of finding comfortable places for reading and other activities.
The lighting fixtures at Trail End were designed by Burgess & Granden of Omaha, Nebraska, which supplied artists’ drawings of the proposed light fixtures before they were cast in metal. Since the fixtures were one-of-a-kind creations, these drawings allowed the Kendricks to see what they were getting and make comments or revisions prior to committing to a particular style of fixture. Once approved, the sketches were sent to Chicago, where the Braun Company cast the fixtures.
The light fixtures throughout Trail End do not adhere to any one style. The four Tiffany-style chandeliers hanging from the peaks of the Georgia Pine beams in the Ballroom, for example, have an artificial “verdigris” patina similar to that found on aged bronze, brass and copper. That same patina can be found on a Tiffany-inspired table lamp located in the Drawing Room.
It wasn’t considered important for a particular style to be carried throughout the house. As long as they harmonized with the individual room, that was all that mattered: "Adequate illumination, unobtrusively yet artistically distributed," said one design maven, "eloquently interprets your individual taste and unites the furnishings of every room in an harmonious and charming arrangement."
The ceiling fixtures and fireplace sconces in the Trail End Drawing Room were heavy bronze with frosted glass inserts - exactly in keeping with modern decorating ideals: "Study carefully the character of your room. If the wood-work is heavy and there are beam ceilings, the fixtures should be of heavy, sturdy material, such as iron or brass or bronze."
The antiqued brass lighting fixtures in Manville’s Bedroom are pure Arts & Crafts. They were chosen because, according to the Braun Company salesman, they fit the character of “a boy’s room.” The filigree brass and crystal pendant fixtures in Rosa-Maye’s Bedroom were equally fitting to a “girl’s room.” Although fairly old-fashioned and fussy, these lights – and similar ones in the Master Bedroom – were still in keeping with current decorating advice: "If the room has delicate paper or painted panels or is light in color, there is our chance for well-selected crystal or silver."
THE DANGERS OF ELECTRICITY
Electricity can be a powerful boon to society. It can also be powerfully dangerous. In 1914, two Sheridan homeowners and a fireman found out just how dangerous:
Mrs. Sherman D. Canfield pulled a small chain that lights an electric light. She had a terrific shock which stunned her and in falling to the floor the telephone was knocked down. It is believed that the electric light wire and the telephone wire came together and this caused her burns. Mr. Canfield was summoned home at once and in lighting a light in one room he was stunned by a shock. The house was full of smoke from the burning out of the telephone and of the insulation on the wires. The fire department was called out. Fireman Camplin was badly shocked when he made an examination of the wiring in the house.
The day after the incident, professional electricians were on the scene trying to determine what went wrong with the Canfields’ wiring. In order to prevent such incidents, one of Sheridan’s first electrical firms, Wyoming Electric Supply Company, frequently advertised the value of having homes properly wired: "It is of the utmost importance that house-wiring be properly installed and maintained by competent electricians, whose business it is to make the use of electricity as convenient and safe as possible."
Better Homes & Gardens also reminded its readers of the hazards of improper wiring: "It would be well for the homeowner to learn how to test out his appliances. When handling electric wiring, remember you are handling something potentially dangerous."
Detail from drawing of custom-made foyer chandelier, 1911 (Trail End Collection)