Streetscape Society wants to keep rare, but expensive, lights on Unusual fixtures date to 1940s CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

June 07, 1993|By Staff Report

Half a century ago, Arthur W. Feeser, owner of A. W. Feeser Canning Co. in Silver Run, and another local businessman decided that their community ought to have street lights.

So Mr. Feeser dipped into his cash register and came up with the money to install lamps in downtown Silver Run and along Mayberry and Cherrytown roads.

Also in the early 1940s, the Independent Order of Mechanics, a now-defunct lodge in Union Mills, sponsored the installation of street lights along Route 97 in that community.

Decades went by and the lights remained, clear incandescent bulbs under crimped metal shades called radial wave fixtures. Now, they're rare antiques.

"These fixtures are quite historic," said Barry Williams, president of the American Streetscape Society, which is dedicated to saving old street lights and traffic signs. The society would like to persuade Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. to save fixtures such as those in Silver Run and Union Mills.

Radial wave fixtures have become extremely rare, Mr. Williams said.

The original design dates to 1919. The old lamps use high-energy-consuming incandescent bulbs. But Mr. Williams says they can be retrofitted with sodium vapor bulbs that use less energy.

John Metzger, a BG&E spokesman, says the utility has no plans to change the historic lights in either community, regardless of the amount of energy the bulbs consume.

Potomac Edison Co., the power company that serves western Carroll, has been pressing communities such as Uniontown and Graceham to replace radial wave fixtures with modern cobra head lamps. Company officials say the lamps are inefficient and replacement parts are no longer available.

Mr. Metzger says BG&E doesn't plan replacements except for individual fixtures that become damaged.

"If the community doesn't want these lights changed, we'd go along with things the way they are," he said.

Mr. Metzger said he did not know what replacements would cost or what the cost-benefit ratio would be for a community to have the lamps retrofitted with energy-efficient bulbs.

The 19 street lights that serve Silver Run cost the community $112 a month for electricity, says John Stuffle, the community street light treasurer.

Mr. Stuffle said BG&E tried several years ago to persuade residents to replace the old lights, "But we said no, because our bill would be even higher because we'd be paying the replacement cost."

It's tough enough getting the money together to pay the current bills, said Alton Dutterer, a retired stair manufacturing plant and cabinet shop owner who now does furniture repairs.

Contributions are voluntary and no one coerces residents who don't feel inclined to support the lights, Mr. Dutterer said. He said he helps pay the bills, "but I don't collect. I'm a poor beggar."

The Silver Run-Union Mills Lions Club also chips in on the electric bills in both communities. Silver Run residents donate 10 percent of the profits from the community's annual Old Time Day flea market to the lighting fund.

In Union Mills, the suggested donation is $10 a year for residents and $20 a year for businesses, said Cyril Groft, the community treasurer, but giving is voluntary, he added.

Union Mills probably has about 24 radial wave fixtures, said Mr. Williams, a Washington resident who saw the historic lights when he was driving through Union Mills.

"They probably survived because they weren't in an urban area" and escaped replacement as the utility company modernized fixtures in larger towns and cities, he said.

The society president said he contacted Union Mills' lighting committee and BG&E to persuade the utility to offer community members a chance to retrofit rather than replace.

"My fear is that the utility would say any day, 'We're going to have to trash these lights and put up cobra heads,' " he said.

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