By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
It just wouldn’t feel like the holiday season without the Marion County Historical Society’s annual Christmas ornament.
The ornaments have traditionally celebrated historical sites in Fairmont.
This year, for the first time, a site outside the city is being featured.
The old Rivesville Power Plant.
In operation for almost 100 years, when it closed on Dec. 1, 2012, it brought an end to a vital part of the history of Rivesville and the county itself.
It’s more than worthy of being the first in this new tradition, said society President Dora Kay Grubb.
The first year for the ornaments featured three buildings: the former Sheriff’s Home (and current home for the historical society museum), the Marion County Courthouse and the former jail, she said.
“That’s because they were interconnected. After that, it was one a year.”
Ornaments celebrating the Thomas Fleming Home (current home for the
Fairmont Woman’s Club), Sonnencroft and the Father’s Day Church followed, she said.
Sites are chosen by the historical society’s board of directors.
“These celebrate important places in Marion County,” Grubb said. “They make nice Christmas presents or housewarming gifts. You can collect them.”
The power plant was a natural to be the first ornament from outside the city, she said.
“It has a phenomenal history because of the significance it has to Marion County.”
The Rivesville Power Plant was built by Monongahela Power and Railway Co. in 1919 and was operated by Allegheny Energy. Unit 5, installed in 1944, had a power output of 48 megawatts. Unit 6, installed in 1951, was 94 megawatts.
The plant used open loop cooling, drawing up to 69.8 million gallons per day of cooling water from the Monongahela River. The coal stockpile at the plant had a capacity of 50,000 tons, and coal was delivered by barge.
Formerly, coal was delivered by rail.
The plant was connected to the grid by 138Kv transmission lines.
“You could write a book on the power plant. We’re hoping to be able to do so because of its significance.”
The facility that closed almost a year ago was actually one in a series of plants located along the Monongahela River, she said. The first was built in Fairmont and opened in 1890.
“It was just a small plant on the river near the railroad station. A big crowd came to see Fairmont’s first electric light plant put into operation. It had only two 15-kilowatt generators. In those days, only a little over 1,000 people lived in Fairmont.”
But with Rivesville at the time one of the major cities in the county, it was only natural that the next plant would be located there.
“Rivesville was larger than Fairmont. It was where the hustle and bustle were. It was very important. It’s where the first settlers of the county were, the home of the original Morgan Homestead.
“Rivesville was even offered the county seat when the county was formed. But they said no. They were interested in being a part of another county.
“That little plant was the cornerstone for the great utility system plants in the state.
“One of the interesting things about this power plant was that it was self-starting. It could completely be shut down and then start on its own to generate.”
It was also used to restart other newer nonstarting plants, she said.
“My understanding is that it was the last self-starting plant in West Virginia when it was closed.”
The Rivesville plant on the ornament was built by Sanderson and Porter in 1917, she said.
Sections were added over time until the facility grew to 212,000 kilowatts, she said.
“It was the major employer,” she said.
“It was one of the three most important power stations on the eastern seaboard” because of its size and abundancy of low-sulfur coal in the area, she said.
“It was very economical to be at the source of low-sulfur coal. It was still a coal-running power plant when it closed down.”
In the mid-1970s, this was the first commercial power plant to use fluidized bed combustion to fire its boilers.
“This was an experiment to see if it could cleanse coal economically. They found it was not economical, but this plant was the one chosen from all others in the U.S. to do so,” Grubb said.
“And for one day, when it was first built, it was the largest power station in the United States.
“It’s tied in to so many industries here. So we felt it was a very significant piece of history.”
More ornaments in the future will highlight sites outside the city, she said.
“We are the Marion County Historical Society. People think we’re Fairmont’s historical society, but we’re not.”
It works with some of the county’s other historical societies, she added.
And it doesn’t ignore Fairmont’s contributions to the county’s history.
“We want to work on projects as a community to get Fairmont back to its importance. We need to be on the state coal mining trail, the national Civil War trail, the quilting trail, the black history trail.”
Membership in the Marion County Historical Society is $10 a year.
The society and museum are open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The museum is located at 211 Adams St., next to the courthouse.
For more information about the ornament, historical society, the Historical Homes Tour (Nov. 30) or the museum open house (10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 14), call 304-367-5398.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.