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History

In 1934, only 10.9% of the farms in the United States had obtained electricity. Farmers across the country attempted to convince power companies and municipalities to extend power lines to their farms without success. Edgecombe County farmers faced the same situation but that was about to change.

The late R.V. Knight, a prominent Edgecombe County farmer and North Carolina State College alumnus, was the first to initiate conversation pertaining to starting an electric cooperative. Knight had formed a lasting friendship with Dr. Dave S. Weaver, a faculty member at the college. One day, during a friendly game of horseshoes, Dr. Weaver told Knight that the government in Washington was attempting to start a rural electrification program.

After talking with several friends and neighbors throughout the communities, Knight presented the Town of Tarboro Board of Commissioners with a petition on June 11, 1934 to extend approximately five miles of rural lines to the farms of the petitioners. The Board approved the extension but was unable to finance the construction, so a committee was formed to investigate a source of funds for the project.

In November, 1935, several members of the committee traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with officials from the recently formed R.E.A. about granting them a loan to construct the lines. Although they were supportive of the committee’s idea, representatives of the R.E.A. in Washington, D.C. informed the committee members that they would need more information in order to grant their request.

The committee members informed the Town of Tarboro Board about the information they had received while in Washington, D.C. during a meeting on December 9, 1935. The board met again on December 17 and decided to have five or more individuals from the county form a corporation to borrow money from the government. On April 13, 1936, the board voted unanimously to proceed to form the corporation that would later be called Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corporation. Two months later, on May 20, 1936, President Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act.

The rest is history! The incorporators of the Cooperative and the Town of Tarboro Board agreed to petition R.E.A. for a loan of $32,000. The loan was approved on September 1, 1936 at 2% interest along with several other loans, which constituted the first loans made under the R.E.A.

On January 7, 1937 construction commenced on 32 miles of lines from the Town of Tarboro to Hassell, and on April 17, 1937 the Cooperative threw its first switch to energize the homes of 82 cooperative members. This historical event made Edgecombe-Martin County EMC the oldest Rural Electric Cooperative in North Carolina and one of the oldest in the nation.

Now it’s probably safe to say that the incorporators of Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corporation were not aware of the historical significance their “straw cooperative” would have on the members and rural communities it served some seventy years after the Cooperative’s inception. Edgecombe-Martin County EMC has grown from 82 members to almost 12,000 and the distribution grid has expanded from 32 miles of line to over 1,600 miles of line in the past seventy years.

On July 27, 2006 the Division of Archives and History’s Department of Cultural Resources erected an Historical Highway Marker to commemorate this historical event. Sometimes referred to as “History on a Stick”, the marker is located in front of the Cooperatives office on Hwy. 33 East in Tarboro, NC. Marker E-111’s inscription reads, RURAL ELECTRIFICATION—New Deal program set up cooperatives to bring power to farms. In N.C., first switch thrown on April 17, 1937, one mile north.