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Turning the Lights on in Rural Georgia

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

By Mary Catherine Gaston

On a steamy morning in early August 1938, power arrived in Sumter County in Georgia’s sandy

southwestern corner. Electric power, that is. The first current that hummed through 72 miles of steel cable and into 161 farmhouses, filling stations, churches and schools transformed life in the quiet countryside. Electricity shed light on rural Georgia—simultaneously multiplying daylight and dividing the hours spent at mundane but mandatory tasks. That power brought freedom, hope and relief during the dark days of the Great Depression.

Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives, Morrow, Georgia.

The first REA pole installed in Seminole County in Georgia’s southwestern corner.

Courtesy: Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives, Morrow, Georgia.

Eight decades later, much has changed in rural Georgia. While a handful of vibrant communities set shining examples of all that exurban life can be, many places that buzzed back then have vanished entirely. The remains of others stand silently in red brick rows, reminders of main streets that once crawled with life, slowing traffic on the backroads that give form to Georgia’s rural fringes.

Just as electricity was slow to make its way to the countryside, so the recent economic upsurge that has reenergized the state’s urban center has remained largely confined to that core. Rural Georgia is once again at a historical—if not metaphorical—crossroads. Faced with dwindling populations and seemingly insurmountable social problems, communities across the state find themselves in the midst of another dark time. But as the residents of small towns and quiet communities once pooled their resources to bring power to the margins of the state, Georgia’s Rural Center exists to provide rural leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators with the tools they need to extend new power lines into almost-forgotten places. It’s time to turn the lights on again in rural Georgia.

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