Argyle's Early Power, Gas, Telephone, and Radio


Argyle received electric lights in 1897. making it the first community north of Crookston to do so. In August of that year, James Scott, a local businessman, purchased a twenty-five horsepower gasoline engine driven generator and nearly two hundred 16 and 25 candle power incandescent light bulbs. The expectation was that by October I, every business place in town would be using them.

On October 7, 1897. the village council granted Scott a franchise to erect, maintain, and operate an electric power system and by October 14, 1897, electric lights had become a reality. After the generating system was going, the village contracted with Scott to install 23 street lights of 25 candlepower each at 75 cents per light per month.

By 1902, with the demand for electricity growing, the council decided that the village should install a larger generator, to be owned by the village, and asked the community to vote on a $12,400 bond issue to finance the project. The voters favored the proposal and voted for it. The new light plant would be built on lots 6-12, block 1. original townsite, purchasing the site from the St. Paul. Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railroad for $275.

A new 125-horsepower steam engine driving a direct drive 75 KW generator was purchased and installed along wtih the necessary switching equipment and an enlarged electrical distributing system. It was atthis time also that Scott sold his generating equipment. as well as his franchise, to the village.

With increased generating capacity, there were requests that the street lights be left on all night, and there were promises to do so, but apparently all night lighting didn't last long .- perhaps for economic reasons.. because the request was repeated a number of times, It is interesting to note that the generator was run on Tuesdays to accommodate housewives who were fortunate to have electric irons.

The direct current generated by the village plant had limitations to its usefullness that led the council to consider changing the electrical system from direct current to alternating current and purchasing the current from an outside source. This would also involve moving all the poles and lines from the streets to the alleys wherever possible. An election was held on June 28, 1920. to determine if the voters were in favor of making the change at a cost of $30,000. A total of 121 ballots were cast, and all voted in favor of the change.

Minnesota Electric Distributing Company of Crookston, with a bid of $30,000, was hired to change the system to the use of alternating current and to move and make improvements on its distribution wherever possible, In addition, M.E.D. would furnish the aiternating current. and on August 12, 1920, work was begun on a powerline to run from Crookston to Argyle. In February of 1921, Argyle received its first alternating current, and the local power plant was shut down for good.

Argyle's "Whiteway" was installed by businessmen in September of 1923. The "Whiteway" consisted of large lighted globes on attractive fluted columns, Eight of these were installed on Pacific Avenue, and six were placed on Third Street. An arrangement had been made with M.E.D. Company whereby they would install the wiring without charge when the lights were put up.

M.E.D. Company had approached the vilIage several times with offers to buy the electrical system, but had been rejected each time. In April of 1931, the council decided to call an election to determine if the village residents would consider selling the system for the sum of $19.000 plus lower electrical rates. A total of 162 ballots were cast in favor of selling. and 41 ballots against. The sale was completed, with a favorable reduction in rates, and the village was relieved of the responsibility of maintaining the distribution system.

Minnesota Electrical Distributing Company was succeeded by Ottertail Power Company as the local power source. Ottertail was represented in the community for many years by Van Mossefin until his retirement. He was replaced by Charles Swendsrud. who was followed by Ed Heggen, the present day lineman for the company.


On October 31, 1956, the Federal Power Commission approved the sale of natural gas to the Village of Argyle, making it one of the first in northern Minnesota to operate a natural gas system. The gas would be purchased from Midwestern Gas Transmission Company of Houston, Texas, with the pipeline company to deliver the gas to a point approximately 13/4 miles west of the village. From there, a pipeline built by the village would bring the gas to the distribution svstem.

Midwestern's gas supply would be purchased from TransCanada at the international border under a firm 25-vear contract. The gas reserves relied on by Trans-Canada are located in the province of Alberta, and it is one of the largest fields in North America.

The village approved the sale of $150,000 worth of municipal bonds to finance the construction of the transmission main and distribution system. Construction contracts in the amount of $103,452 were awarded August II. 1960. to the Harbert Construction Corporation of Birmington, Alabama, and the Rockwell Manufacturing Company of Chicago. The work covered by the contract included all labor, material. and equipment needed -- including the 179 service connections, The balance of the bonds would be used for legal, financial. administrative, interest, working capital and contingency purposes.

The engineer estimated there was a total potential for the gas services area of 270 customers, Many new homes have been built since then, and most of them use natural gas. Even with the increase in price in recent years. it still has a small competitive edge over fuel oil and electricity.


On June 23, 1898, work was begun on a new telephone exchange in Argyle. This was being built by James Scott, a local businessman. Work progressed rapidly, and by August 25, the telephone exchange was in operation and working satisfactorily. By March 30, 1899, thirty telephones were installed in the village, with orders for many more, especially from farmers in the surrounding community.

During the year of 1900, Northwest Telephone Exchange Company built a long distance line that connected Crookston, the company's headquarters, with all the towns north to St. Vincent, across the Red River to Pembina, and south to Grand Forks. Later tbey extended their lines to Greenbush and Roseau. This company became the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company.

Dan Robertson purchased tbe Argyle Telephone Exchange, as it was to become known, from Scott in 1902, and the next year he installed the central office upstairs in his new O.K. Pharmacy building. After June I. twenty-four hour service would be provided. With 325 telephones in operation by the end of 1913, the service needed to expand its facilities and a new. larger switchboard was installed. It was about this time that louis Cerny was employed as a lineman, and he remained with the company in that capacity for many years.

The Exchange suffered a disastrous blow in November of 1930 when a severe sleet storm hit this area. Between four and five hundred poles were broken, along with countless breaks in the wires. In the eight miles between Argyle and the Alma Creamery, only six poles remained standing.

The Argyle Telephone Exchange was owned by Dan and Walter Robertson as partners from 1913 until Dan retired. Walter became sole owner and continued in that capacity until his death in 1943. The business was then purchased by Vic Bradley. The Minnesota Telephone Company bought the business from Bradley in 1947, and in 1953 spent $70,000 in Marshall County on a modernization program that included automatic dialing. There was no longer a need for operators because long distance calls were handled by the company exchange. When Lake State Telephone, a subsidiary of Continental Telephone, took over the business in 1963, direct distance dialing became available. Continental Telephone is the present owner.

Among the many people who worked as "'Central Girls" were: Effie Menzel. Margaret Kurz, Ann Hammerback, Rose Gagnon, Agnes Nelson and Mrs. Bill Berry. Those who deserve special recognition for their many years of service are Clara Toftner and Clarice Anderson.


Radios were still a novelty in 1925, but that was the year Argyle was to have its own radio station, 9BZW. Herman Fellman, an employee of the H. P. Krogh Hardware Company, was a man of many talents and interests -- one of which was radios. He built a radio transmitter that could be used on a commercial frequency. This transmitter was located in the hardware store. Two towers were built on the roof to carry the antenna. The transmitter was quite successful. although of low power and unable to reach out for any distance. In 1926 he remodeled the equipment which gave its signal greater clarity and volume, increasing its working range to 50 miles or more. The station was also given new call letters and would be known as 9CZX. The station resumed broadcasting in November of 1920, and it is not known how long it remained on the air.

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