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Revolutions Redux

Electricity came late to rural Eagle County.  By 1928, the town of Eagle had an established grid.  Many less populated areas relied on generators, mostly gasoline driven.  Avon, with a population spread over many ranched miles, was without commercial electricity in 1928 but it did have the Eagle River.  Emmett and Myrtle Nottingham decided that they would use the fast-flowing river to produce electricity.

W. Emmett Nottingham 1923

Myrtle had learned about electricity from her brother, an electrician, and enjoyed math and science problems.  She designed the water wheel which provided 24 revolutions per minute and the system of shafts and pulleys that increased the output to the 2800 revolutions per minute needed to produce two kilowatt hours of 110 volt electricity.  During the summer of 1928 and through the winter of 1929, Emmett, his eldest son Willis, and hired workers constructed the wheel and paddles, successfully producing electricity.  Its location on the north bank of the Eagle River off Hurd Lane made it convenient to furnish power to the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad Depot at a fee of $5 per month.  The wheel and generator were used for twelve years at the Nottingham Ranch.  “In the summer of 1941, rural electrification came to Avon and the ‘Wheel’ came to rest.” [Frank Doll, “Water wheel gave Avon its first jolt of juice,” Eagle Valley Enterprise, Dec. 11, 1980 p.17]

Remains of the water wheel in 1980

 The Avon Historical Society, chaired by Jeanette Hix, selected the power plant as its first preservation project. The Town of Avon hired Ron Sladek and his firm, Tatanka Historical Associates, to conduct an archeological assessment of the power plant, which proved it was worthy of state historical designation.  With Mr. Sladek’s help, the power plant was added to the State Register of Historic Properties in November 2006.  It is the only property in Avon with that designation. In the spring of 2009, the State Historical Society granted the Town of Avon $20,000 to stabilize and restore the plant.  Colorado Mountain College’s Historic Preservation Program in Leadville is restoring the wheel.  The town of Avon will rebuild support beams and piers in the generator building, ready to rehouse the restored wheel.  With completion expected in June 2011, the Nottingham Power Plant will continue to be an example of the “ingenuity and ambition” necessary to success in the rural West.  [Matt Terrell, “Out of the dark,” Vail Daily Jan. 5, 2007 p.A2]

water wheel remains in 2007

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