Stittsville’s first street lights

(As told by Mrs. Garland Bradley, nee Edna Switzer, from Country Tales, 1973)

About the year 1919, after the First World War, Stittsville Women’s Institute decided that we should have something in the line of street lights. This, of course, was before the time of electricity, so the only lights available were gasoline.

Three lights were purchased – I think from a man by the name of Howard Moore – and installed. One was to be in front of my home, on what we called Vinegar Hill, and which is now the home of W.C. Switzer. Two others were located down near Green’s Hotel (where Ritual on Main is located) and over the present Orange Hall (Stittsville Legion).

Mr. Carleton Cathcart took care of the downtown ones, and I volunteered to light and take care of the one on our hill.

These lights were installed on the telephone poles, and lowered and raised by a rope and pulley. The light itself was a large globe with a hole in the bottom, fastened to the top which had two mantles and a sort of generator which had a hollow wire leading to a tank on the ground. Every day you put in the tank, a quantity of gas which was filtered through a chamois on a funnel; then you pumped in air to force the gas up to the light. When ready to light, you lowered the lamp, dipped a swab or torch on a wire into wood alcohol, lighted it with a match and inserted the flame through the hole in the globe, turned on the gas at the tank and prayed that it would light. Sometimes the wind would snuff your torch, and you would perform the operation all over again. If successful, you raised the lamp into the proper place.

The mantles which were used were little bags of net, with a drawstring which you tied around two sort of jets about one inch in diameter. These little bags became bags of ash when in use, and would disintegrate if you happened to touch them with the smallest object.

When the lights were operating properly, we had a beautiful white glow which the country people were able to see when entering the village from all directions. We also had our skating rink equipped with the same lamps, one at each end and one on a wire in the centre.

Of course, when you lighted the street lamp you had to see that it was turned off, or else let it burn until all the gas was used out of the tank. Very often, my husband, who was just a friend at that time, would take care of turning off the lamp when he would be going home at midnight or later.


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