Thursday Doors – HELCO

HELCO Steam Plant

One of the things we take for granted today is electricity. We plug stuff in and the stuff whirrs to life, lights up, cools down, washes our clothes, cooks our food, and so on and so on. We tend to only notice electricity when something goes wrong, during a power outage or when the things we plug in don’t work.

It wasn’t always that way.

In many ways, electricity is a new thing. We’re not much more than 130 years out since mankind first harnessed electricity for productive use, and much less farther away from when electricity became a business. Today, we are familiar with long-distance powerlines hanging overhead, running through the landscape, but we are less familiar with the generation facility at the other end of those lines. Driving through the Midwest and rural areas in other parts of the country, we might spot wind farms, and we can usually see solar panels right in our own neighborhood, but chances are there isn’t a power plant on your block.

That wasn’t the case in the 1920s in Hartford, if your block was inside, what is now the Ann Street Historic District. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before. We visited Pearl St. and we visited St. Patrick – St. Anthony Church. When we visited Pearl St., I warned you that we would have to return. I have returned. While I don’t think I’m reusing any photos, some of the photos might include buildings you’ve seen before. That’s because the Ann St. District is pretty small, and jam-packed full of history.

The building I am reusing once housed the steam plant of the Hartford Electric Light Company. Today, electric utilities are big statewide, often multi-state deals. When electricity was in its infancy, utilities were local. HELCO has the distinction of being the first company to bring electricity to customers in our area, and the first company anywhere to use a steam generator to generate power for a public utility. According to Connecticut History’s website:

“In 1881, over 1,000 gaslights lit 80 miles of streets in Hartford. The Hartford Electric Light Company began operations with a steam-powered electrical generating plant on Pearl Street on April 7, 1883, serving 6 customers with 21 arc lamps. By the end of September 1888, a HELCO arc lamp had replaced the city’s last gas streetlight.”

A few remnants of that original system remain standing today. My daughter and I used to paddle a canoe around Rainbow Reservoir, a small recreational lake near our town that sits behind the dam and generator complex that first sent power to Hartford in 1893. There are also a couple of buildings in downtown Hartford that were hooked up to that original power generation station.

Today’s gallery includes some photos of the buildings that remain in Hartford, as well as some historic photos from various archives. Due to some construction vehicles in front of the old HELCO building the day I was there, I copied a few shots from Google Earth

If you like these photos, you should think about tapping into the circuit that travels from the primary generation station in Montreal, Canada. That’s the location from which Norm Frampton transmits a worldwide flow of Doortricity. When you visit Norm’s station, be sure to look at his doors. Then, look for the blue frog – please be careful – don’t touch the frog with your bare hands, stay safe and use your computer mouse. The frog will put you on the grid with all the other door-photo-generators. You can add your doors to the mix, or you can sit back and enjoy. Either way, your enjoyment is, as they used to say, too cheap to meter, i.e. free.

Thanks for visiting No Facilities.


  1. A nice bit of history, Dan. You’re so right about how we take electricity for granted today. Our dependence on it is so complete today that it’s hard to believe people had to be coaxed into bringing electricity into their homes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Judy. We spent 10 days in the dark several years ago. I don’t think my wife minded much about that, except the cold showers. She heated with our wood stove and made coffee. I ran back and forth to the town charging station. We might have automated more than necessary, but I’m not up for living without power.


  2. Nice post with some interesting and important history Dan.
    We do take electricity for granted. I’m not sure I would want to live without it, but it does me some good to get off the grid and head out into the wilderness once in a while.
    Around these parts steam powered plants were never very popular but there are a number of smaller local hydro electric dams still in use.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Norm. I would imagine hydro has always been a go-to source of power for you guys. They had several small hydro plants, but transmission was a challenge. The plant by us was 11 miles away. Last I checked, it was still owned by Stanley Tools. I never quite understood why a tool maker wanted a small hydro plant that was nowhere near any of its facilities in the state, but…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Okay, thief that I am, and as i am also scouting for our next few walks, this district was intriguing, especially as I can steal photos from you as well! I can’t find the Helco building on Google earth, probably because I am not on the right street. The street looks lovely, and they can come get a history lesson from you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There is a saying that everything old becomes new… Well, I met a guy who works at a small power plant in Owatonna. The plant uses diesel engines to generate electricity whenever a drop in wind speed causes a dip in power from the wind turbines farms scattered around the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s kinda cute they called the turbine Mary Ann :D The steam plant is a great building and I love its doors. Excellent choice. I also like how you included that ad, for when we had to be convinced electricity was a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a nice historical door post, Dan. Although I may not have the same passion as you, I have been more interested in the history and landscape of Appleton. It may be due to the door posts or perhaps it’s because my brother’s girlfriend always asks those type of questions when she visits and I can never answer. It’s interesting that in the beginning, people were not that interested in electricity. Now, if the electricity goes off and there’s no coffee or microwavable meal…heaven help us! :-D

    Doortricity. LOL, I love it!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. There have been so many outages here this year, that I’m constantly grateful for electricity… Especially in the summer. Doortricity is pretty darned cool. I get more use of Jackassery though. ;)
    This is an interesting historic post, Dan. Loved the old photos. Nice to see the rainbow along with the industrial stuff. Have a thriving Thursday!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I remind people all the time how much has occurred in our technology in just 100 yrs! It’s scary, really. Man’s technological brain asleep for centuries then Wham! All floodgates of knowledge opened wide. I’d better consult Mulder and Scully on this one. Oh! Marvelous doors Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hmmm. SHOULD I “acquire the electric habit”? Maybe. Especially since it will mean NO increase in my household expenses … O_o … Great doors, Dan, as always! Nice mix of old and new pics.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting subject and doors , Dan:)
    That’s one of the first things I noticed when coming to the States. When i told people that they keep all the electric wring underneath the ground in Holland (maybe because of danger in freezing weather) I got blank stares. When hubby told my brother (electricity was part of his job) that his carpentry work often also includes doing the electricity, he shook his head, “That’s way too dangerous.” They have overseas many more strict rules for electricity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are places here where the services are underground but mostly in congested urban areas. The cost is huge for a country this size. I wouldn’t want most carpenters here doing electrical work. The rules (building code) for electrical are really pretty robust. Not everyone follows them, but they are there.


  11. The people who are really scared of losing power during a hurricane have generators. A few hurricanes ago, we lost power for 2 weeks. Most of us don’t have generators. We gave a standing ovation to ‘those Georgia boys’ when they finally got our power lines hooked up. Way too dependent on electricity!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand that applause. Several years ago, we lost power for 10 days. We were also thanking guys from Georgia. We have considered a generator, but we rarely lose power, so far it hasn’t moved beyond thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • wow. I’d have thought you would have power companies from NY or NJ helping. Southern hospitality goes a long way, for sure. Yeah, we’ve never even thought about a generator. Ten days was the longest we were without power, and we survived.

        Liked by 1 person

        • We have a wood stove, so we were able to keep the house warm. Still, hot water would have been nice. The reason we had crews from the south is because our state utility hadn’t paid the crews from NJ, so they went to MA and NH. The best part was when the CEO of the utility resigned. Actually, the best part was when he lost his power and his generator failed, but I shouldn’t laugh at that – hee hee

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Doortricity is what you find when you visit Norm!! Lol 😁
    I liked that we got the reminder we could be using lanterns or candles without electricity! Also, I could not imagine going back to a wind-up alarm clock or no television in the winter nights! Yikes!
    This is an attractive gallery and the worn deeper toned brick with arched transom window and dark brown painted doors was beautiful. I likethe uniqueness, that they used the very same pattern direction on both doors while I would have had the slats aiming together like this: //\\
    That sepia toned photo of the steam turbine generator for HELCO is a fantastic and popular photo, so glad you included it’s nickname, too. I always associate a whole other time frame for the name Mary Ann (from Gilligan’s Island! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      • That song is definitely a catchy tune! “Cheers” (Where everybody knows your name) is one of my favorite ones and “Best Friend” by Harry Nilsson for “Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1969).
        No way could I go more than a weekend without electricity. I used to try to go a week. I think now, I would have to climb in my car, enjoy the air conditioning and radio, at least! (Cheating, I know!)

        Liked by 1 person

  13. This post is both informative and interesting, Dan, and I especially enjoyed the introduction which described me and made me think I should read more in an attempt to learn about the electricity I depend on and never give a second thought. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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