Stephen F. Austin State University

Prior to Electricity (January 2013)

Prior to Electricity
By Deborah Burkett

Before she passed away, my Great Aunt Nettie Musick used to say, "It was a dark ole world before electricity came to Mixon…" And when my grandparents, Willie and Viola Langston, told me they went to bed with the chickens…it made me laugh. The truth was they did go to bed when the chickens found a place to roost. It was dark as pitch and most activities came to a halt.

They were born into a time of coal-oil lamps, wash pots, well water, crock jugs, and wood cook stoves. An after school snack for the Langston children, and one they eagerly looked forward to, was baked sweet potatoes. These were found in the oven of the wood cook stove once they arrived home.
By the 1930s most of the urban areas of the US, Texas included, had enjoyed electric service for fifty years. However, rural areas were kept in the dark much longer because it was not financially feasible for power companies to run line to sparsely populated areas.

Even with the Rural Electric Association (REA) providing power, not everyone had electricity. It was common for one neighbor to be 'lit up' but not another because some couldn't afford to pay. Consequently electricity was still a marvel for many. Nettie Musick recounted the story of how her father, Joe Lee Langston, loaded the family into the Model T and drove them to the Tyler Fair to see the electric lights. The excursion was an all day event due to several flats along the way and a stop on the side of the road for a picnic lunch. It was a trip she never forgot.

Charlie Willingham and his brother Vernon shared the story of their grandfather, John Lewis Willingham, taking the wagon to Troup to buy blocks of ice. Once home in Mixon he first wrapped the ice in the Houston Chronicle newspaper then wrapped everything in a quilt to keep the ice from melting. This make shift 'fridge' was kept on the back porch at the old Willingham place. In the accompanying photograph Charlie, born May 20, 1924, is seen as a young boy at the back entrance of the house.

I consider myself a lover of all things historical, I cherish the past, collect antiques, even have an oil lamp that belonged to my family but admit it's hard to imagine what life must have been before the REA. When there's a storm brewing, I pray my lights don't go out 'cause I love my electricity!"

Charlie Willingham assures us the jug is not for moonshine! This was actually a crock water jug which was wrapped in a tow sack, tied to the horse collar and taken to the fields. The jug was placed under a shade tree ready for thirsty farmers to take a drink.