Electricity came to Kissimmee 113 years ago.
The pioneer vision that led the citizens of Kissimmee to vote to own and operate the city’s electric utility in 1901 has paid untold benefits to residents in the century since then.
Kissimmee was a typical Central Florida town during its first decade of existence. Clapboard storefronts sprouted up downtown along West Broadway, and the streets were either choked with dust or ankle-deep in mud. Most of the city services that today’s residents take for granted were either non-existent or rudimentary.
In the early 1890s, smoky kerosene lamps illuminated downtown streets on moonless nights. J.J. Woodall made the rounds of downtown streets every evening at dusk, placing a ladder against the wooden poles and climbing up to light the kerosene lamps. Residents frequently complained about missing their step on the dilapidated board sidewalks, and city officials daily read newspaper and magazine articles extolling the virtue of electric street lighting.
Kissimmee achieved municipal ownership of its electric utility in 1900-1901 in an atypical manner. Unlike many communities, Kissimmee forged a harmonious relationship with a private citizen to build and operate a light plant until the city was able to pay for it. The city gained the expertise of a competent local mechanic who knew and understood the electric power equipment of the day.
The investor made a tidy sum from the revenues of the plant in 1900 and 1901, and residents got electric lights two to five years earlier than they would have had the city chosen not to enter into the joint venture.
The investor’s name was William C. Maynard, and he was a resident of Kissimmee. In the fall of 1900, Maynard incorporated the Kissimmee Light Company and approached the City Council about serving Kissimmee with electric lights. On December 4, 1900, the city contracted with Maynard to furnish Kissimmee with electric power.
Maynard quickly put crews to work building a small, brick light plant on the shores of Lake Toho, adjacent to what is now Lakefront Park. The electrical system was powered by a 15-kilowatt generator, which was driven by a Skinner’s steam engine. That first plant was up and running early in 1901 and supplied arc lighting in the downtown business district, as well as incandescent lighting to two residential customers, Carl Dan and W.B. Makinson Sr.
On June 28, 1901, councilors passed a resolution authorizing the purchase of the light plant from Maynard for the sum of $4,293.59. Before the day was out, the council had appointed a committee to oversee operations of the utility.
The governance of the utility from 1901 to the early 1980s flowed from the city commission to the city manager to the electric utility director. On March 28, 1985, a referendum went before Kissimmee voters to establish a separate authority to operate the utility. By a resounding 2-1 margin, voters approved the charter of the Kissimmee Utility Authority, which officially opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1985.Today, KUA is Florida’s sixth largest municipally-owned utility. The utility’s 300 employees serve more than 67,000 customers across 85-square miles of Osceola County and are as committed today to delivering safe and reliable electricity as they were in 1901. Sharing the history of KUA with the residents of Osceola County is important for keeping the history of Osceola County alive, which is the mission of the Osceola County Historical Society.