The First 100 Years
The history of the McMinnville Water and Light Department is entwined with the history of McMinnville and pioneers who had foresight enough to know their community would grow and prosper as time went on. It is the history of pioneer spirit and perseverance. It is the history of technology and skill.
With the great westward migration of 1843 came pioneers who would help to develop the community of McMinnville. Samuel Cozine, John Baker and Sebastian Adams are counted among early pioneers whose names are memorialized in street, school and creek names in the community. These men all played a part in McMinnville’s development, but W.T. Newby was to set a course that would eventually lead to a municipally owned utility.
Cutting a ditch across his land claim from Baker Creek to Cozine Creek, Newby set up a grist mill in 1852-1853, using the water from Baker Creek to power the mill. With the continued influx of settlers the area’s population grew, so Newby and Sebastian Adams joined forces in 1855, plotting out the future city of McMinnville; named in honor of Newby’s home town in Tennessee.
The little city grew year by year. In 1869 Newby developed a scheme to build a ditch that would bring water from the Willamina River to McMinnville. He founded the McMinnville Ditch and Manufacturing Company and began work on the ditch in 1870. Six miles of the ditch had been dug when “through the wildness of some incorporators, the ditch was brought into politics.”
Unfortunately the project, which would have resulted in a fifty foot fall generating 500 horse power of energy, was abandoned. In 1889 the project was revived and it was “almost assured that water (would) be brought in,” thus creating McMinnville’s water power. Newby died October 22, 1884 before he saw his dream become a reality, however, his is the earliest recorded effort to obtain not only water, but also water power for the entire community.
Newby’s effort wasn’t forgotten, and in the years that lay ahead there would be other attempts to bring pure, fresh, running water and electric power to the growing city of McMinnville.