Lewisburg Boulevard Streetlights

Lighting the Way

Rich in architectural heritage, downtown Lewisburg turns on the charm with its distinctive three-globed, cast-iron street lamps.

A source of local pride and one of the community’s most recognizable features, the Lewisburg street lighting system has been illuminating the scenic downtown area since 1915. Not only functional providing lighted streets and sidewalks, the lights provide a means of beautification and are a recognized Lewisburg trademark used by many local businesses and community groups. Bringing power to those streetlights through all those years has been Citizens’ Electric Company.

History of the Boulevard Lights of Lewisburg

Adapted from a memo by Paul R. Ernst, Citizens’ Electric, 1945-1983 October 10, 1973

Citizens’ Electric Company of Lewisburg, Pa was chartered in 1911, and in those early years had made many significant advancements to the electric distribution system.  The electric lamp had become a modern convenience that one could no longer do without.

The merchants in downtown Lewisburg felt that street lighting for the business district of town would be very desirable.  And so it was, that in 1915, prior to transforming Market Street from dust and mud to hard paving bricks, the decision was made that street lighting would finally be installed on Market Street between Second and Fourth streets. In order to finance the project, each merchant bought the standard that was to be placed in front of his place of business.  Citizens’ Electric furnished the wiring and labor to install the standards, which were then given over to the Borough of Lewisburg.  By 1918, boulevard lighting was completed east to the Susquehanna River and west to Eighth Street.

The light post that was chosen was a cast iron standard with two lower arm lights and one top light, each enclosed in a round glass globe.  The accidental decision to use a light post with three round globes forming a triangle would give Lewisburg a logo and a source of symbolic pride that would last indefinitely. 

Well-lighted streets and sidewalks were very popular, especially Saturday evening when all the merchants remained open late for business.  In addition to the town folks, Saturday evening was the night when most of the rural folks would come to town to do their weekly shopping.  In fact, even if supplies were not necessarily needed, Saturday night was the time to come to town and visit with friends and neighbors.  Many would come early so that they could get a central parking place on Market Street to visit or to just watch the people go by.  Of course, the new lighting was desirable for other evenings too, as there were many evening activities such as movies, club meetings, and evening church that brought people out after dark.

The new boulevard lighting system was installed using two separate electric circuits.  With two circuits, all three globes were lit in the early evening, making the streets and sidewalks well lighted.  At approximately 11:00 PM, the two lower arm lights were switched off.  The top light stayed on all night, which left a fair amount of illumination for those folks that found it necessary to be out late, to see to get home.

The circuits were controlled by time clocks which operated separate switches for the arms and top lights.  These time clocks would have to be adjusted periodically according to the season.  Likewise, a power interruption would also throw the clocks off until they were reset.  To assuage a disagreement with the borough that the lights were on when unnecessary or off when needed, a schedule was determined to turn the streetlights on ½ hour before sunset and keep them on until ½ hour after sunrise, but maintaining this schedule required a lot of manual intervention.

In 1949, Citizens’ Electric was leading the nation as one of the first communities to install the new Sunswitch, a precursor to the transistorized photoelectric eye.  The Sunswitch was a phototube, similar to a vacuum tube or the more familiar radio tube that could control the streetlights according to the degree of darkness.  Through relays, the Sunswitch would turn on the streetlights when the ambient light level got down to two-foot candles, reversing the operation in the morning when daylight arrived.  Early designs were in frequent need of replacement as the tubes in the Sunswitch would weaken and not function correctly.  Even with this deficiency, the Sunswitch resolved the smoldering issue with the Borough that the lights came on too early or too late, or they were turned off too early or too light. 

At Christmastime years ago, red and green colored light bulbs were installed in the globes in the tops of the standards which would complement the other Christmas decorations.  The downside was that the colored lights greatly decreased the light output, especially noticeable when the lower arm lights were cut off.  The custom was soon discontinued.

In 1972 after the flood caused by Hurricane Agnes, public officials felt the need to increase security and add to the protection and safety of the community.  As a result, it was decided that all three lights on each standard should be left on for the entire night.  This practice has continued ever since.

The original cast iron boulevard standards were purchased from Western Electric, which in addition to being the country’s largest manufacturer of telephone and telegraph equipment, had become a major distributor of other electrical equipment.  In 1925, Western Electric reorganized, spinning off   anything unrelated to the growing telephone industry.

Future orders for boulevard lights went to the Westinghouse Corporation, with the lights being cast and shipped from the Union Metal Corporation in Ohio.  At the Union Metal foundry, the lights were cast on a special order basis and required at least six months or longer for delivery, with the price increasing steadily.

Considering the unsatisfactory shipping delay, Citizens’ Electric commissioned the fabrication of a casting pattern of the standards which would enable the lights to be cast locally.  The cost of the pattern was to be underwritten by the Company.  When new standards were needed, Citizens’ was to furnish them to the Lewisburg Borough at the regular Westinghouse list price.  Any additional funds in excess of the actual cost of producing the standards were to be credited against the cost of the patterns until paid.  Once paid off, the pattern would become the property of the Lewisburg Borough.

The benefits of local ownership of the pattern soon became obvious, both financially and from an operations perspective.  From 1949 to 1957, which was shortly after local casting began, many of the side streets in Lewisburg were rebuilt, and, at that time, underground lines were laid and boulevard standards were installed to light and decorate the streets.

Local casting was originally done at the Laurelton Foundry in Laurelton.  After being cast, the light posts were taken to Musser’s Machine Shop at the corner of North Fourth and St. Mary Streets in Lewisburg, where they were drilled, threaded and assembled.  Later, after the Laurelton Foundry closed, the patterns were moved and standards were cast by the Watsontown Foundry in Watsontown.  Still later, the lights were made at foundries in Bloomsburg and Danville.

The only other community that was known to use standards of this type was the Village of Woolrich, which, at the time, owned and operated it’s own electric system. Many years ago, Woolrich officials inquired at Citizens’ Electric to find out where they could get standards as they needed replacements.  Arrangements were made for Woolrich to obtain new light standards from Citizens’ supplier.  Later, the Woolrich electric system was sold to the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company, and because PP&L had standardized street lighting for the many towns they served, the Woolrich boulevard system was disconnected.  With no future use for the standards, they were acquired by the Borough of Lewisburg at no cost, except for the hauling.

Large, white, glass globes originally covered the bulbs on these standards.  The Lewisburg Borough is now purchasing plastic globes, which, identical in appearance, are substantially less susceptible to breakage from bumps and errant thrown stones.  At times, the new plastic globes have been knocked loose, bouncing to the ground without breaking.

The Borough of Lewisburg and Citizens’ Electric continue to expand the boulevard light system, incorporating them into new and reconstructed street projects, providing a distinctive community logo, marketing tool and symbol of local pride.