Electricity comes to Southern Maryland

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 I was talking to someone the other day about when I first took over Pt. Lookout Hotel. I spoke of the complexity of the electrical system at the hotel and how nobody told me where anything was.
When I walked in, there were quite a number of boxes, some with as many as twenty or thirty switches in them, and they were scattered all over the place.
I had no idea what they did — what they turned on — what they turned off. It took us quite a few weeks to figure out the wiring of the hotel.
Never really did figure it all out completely, but we were able to get by. Then I got to thinking, the hotel was built in 1928-1929, so the wiring in the hotel had to be done quite some time after that.
Not only was there no electricity in the lower part of St. Mary’s County, but rural America was way behind in electricity.

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The cities had electricity for as long as I can remember.
Someone said that I go back a long way. Not quite true. Being born in 1921, at least, they tell me I was born on March 3, 1921, because I was just too young to remember.
 Being born then and living most of the year in Washington, D.C., spending my summers down in Southern Maryland.
I had considered myself to be more Southern Maryland than Washington, but Washington, D.C. had electricity.
I assume most big cities did some time ago.
Rural America and Southern Maryland was a part of rural America even though we were very close to the capital; we did not have electricity.
And it was back in 1935, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the REA, better known as the Rural Electric Administration. He established that because there was no electricity in rural America.
Its purpose, so they tell me, was to get commercial interest to invest in electrifying America. Unfortunately, that didn’t work, or maybe fortunately.
And so in a lot of rural areas as it was down here in Southern Maryland.
The people got together and formed a co-op.
The first co-op, if I remember correctly was a Tri-County Electrical Cooperative Association, and they were formed sometime in 1937.
My father was one of the first one hundred people to join the co-op. In 1938 we obtained electricity.

We were, at that time, living in an area called Tompkinsville, Charles County, on the Wicomico River.
It was rather interesting because my father was with Warner Brothers. He wasn’t a movie star.

He took care of the real estate for the Warner Brothers Company on the East Coast, and he lived and worked in Washington, D.C. Prior to going with Warner Brothers, he and my grandfather built what is now called The Warner Theatre at 13th and E Street, and the office building that surrounds it.
Originally it was called the Earle Theatre, and of course, it started out very, very early in the 1920’s as a Vaudeville theatre and then, of course, went to the silent movies and then movies with sound and so forth came in and now it is a prime theatre to this day.

The Earle Theatre, Washington, D.C. 1920’s Library of Congress

My earliest recollection living in Charles County was on the Wicomico River. Oddly enough, we had electricity but the rest the rest of the county did not.
Father, being from the city and being used to electricity, and one of my uncles, well, he really wasn’t an uncle, but we called him uncle, his name was Uncle Edward. He was the chief electrician at the Earle Theatre, and he handled all the stage work.

The Earle Theatre

I do recall going backstage and seeing that. Today, I think everything is handled by little switches, and you sit at a small console and handle all the electric, but in those days, the switches were enormous.
They were huge double throw switches, and when you would throw a switch, sparks would fly. The lights were huge, and it really took something to handle all that electricity back there.

My recollection of that was rather awesome but my uncle, Uncle Edward, used to love to come down to Tompkinsville and spend some time with us. I don’t know if it was his idea or not, but somebody in the family decided we were going to have electricity.
We had bought an old farmhouse, which was on the water and I do remember when we had no electricity.
I don’t remember where we got it, but I can remember the Coleman lanterns, and I can recall that we had a spring. We used to cool our food and our watermelons and such as that in the springhouse. Just set them in that cold water, which would come up out of the ground.
In those days, it was a true artesian well as to say it really flowed, you didn’t have to have a pump to pump it up.
Well, back to the electric. My father decided that he was going to have electricity.
He built a little shed about two hundred or three hundred feet away from the house. In that shed he put a one-horse power, not on horsepower, one cylinder engine what similar to the Palmer Engines that the crabbers used to use.
You could hear them, back in those days, going down the road. They would have four revolutions and hit on the fourth and not hit on the third, so it made a rather peculiar noise.
This one-cylinder engine was hooked to a generator and to create electric they ran this all day long.
It charged some batteries, thirty-two to be exact. The batteries were huge. They were glass batteries so you could see them bubbling.
Again they were really the batteries, and if you can imagine thirty-two of the big batteries on the shelves in this shed with this one-cylinder engine going bang! Bang! Bang! All day long charging these batteries.
Each battery, in turn, would generate one volt, and a thirty-volt system. Today we have what is known as AC Alternating Current.
Those days, we had DC or Direct Current just like you have with the dry cell batteries today, or a battery in your car was the same sort of thing.
We generated thirty-two volts.
I don’t know what the interference was, but we could use that electric in the evening to run a few lights, and we could use it to have a pump for the water system.
That allowed us to have indoor plumbing. I suspect in Southern Maryland about the time we had it because I believe we had it from 1926 on.
We had something that most homes in rural America, particularly Southern Maryland didn’t have indoor plumbing in the early or mid-twenties.
By that time, we also had a refrigerator, but not like the refrigerators you have today. This was not run by electricity.
That was run by a rather odd thing.
It was a Kegometer.
I believe they are still manufactured. They are used in so- called emerging countries, which might not have electric. They run off of heat.
I’m not going to go into how they work because I’m really not sure of the exact theory of it. I know they had no moving parts, absolutely no moving parts.
They had a small flame, and they transformed liquid into gas and back into a liquid again which create a cold.
Ours was run by coal oil, now called kerosene, as was our stove. That was the latest for the country in which we had a coal oil stove which was supposedly a step up from the wood stove.
Certainly was a little bit cleaner and took a lot less effort which had to go by the kerosene.
We had radios which were run on batteries called Kent Atwater radios. They had dials that must have been about 4 inches in diameter and looked like and an amazing gang of things in there and was very impressive looking.
Of course, every we heard was AM band radio. We pulled in a fantastic amount of static.
(This column by Alan Brylawski is from March of 1990. Alan has proven that he can indeed outlive his detractors; the author is now 95 years old and will be updating his columns soon. Alan is a longtime local Realtor and former owner of the old Mr. Donut in Lexington Park as well as the Baskin-Robbins and during the sixties operated the Point Lookout Hotel. His dear wife Jean passed away in January, 2011.)

Jean Brylawski, longtime owner and operator of the Lexington Park Baskin Robbins for 20 years located in Millison Plaza, died in Florida in January. She and her husband operated the Point Lookout Hotel. THE CHESAPEAKE photo

From Washington-Theatre.com: The Warner’s special place in the history of Washington began in the 1920s when dozens of grand theaters and moviehouses lit up downtown. Built first for vaudeville and silent movies, the Theatre was opened as the Earle Theatre in 1924. It was complemented by a rooftop garden that attracted thousands of visitors per night. The basement was also famous, first as a restaurant and ballroom, and in the 1930s as the Neptune Room.
The Earle featured its own precision dance troupe-much like the still-famous Rockettes-called the Roxyettes. They kept the traditions of vaudeville alive at the Earle until 1945, performing before and after feature films and with guest performers such as Red Skelton and Jerry Lewis.

Alan Brylawski, known far and wide as “Mr. B”, was the last operator of the Point Lookout Hotel, and owned the former Mr. Donut in Lexington Park for 20 years before retiring and selling his business. The CHESAPEAKE photo

The Earle switched to a movies-only policy in 1945 and in 1947, owner Harry Warner, one of the Hollywood’s Warner Brothers, visited Washington and told his tour guide Julian Brylawski (one of the original builders) that since he owned the theatre, his name should be on the marquee.
Thus, the Earle Theatre became the Warner Theatre.
Adapting to new entertainment trends in the 1950s, the auditorium was redesigned for Cinerama movies. The screen stayed lit into the 1960s featuring such memorable runs as Ben Hur, Dr. Zhivago, and Hello, Dolly! As with much of downtown Washington in the early 1970s, the Theatre fell into disrepair and disrepute, even functioning briefly as a pornographic movie theater.
By the mid-1970s, the Theatre blossomed anew, mainly as a destination for concerts. The Rolling Stones performed a surprise small-venue show here in 1978.
In 1989, the wonderful mix of 1980s concerts in the genres of soul, jazz, punk, world music, heavy metal, and funk, as well as many touring and local plays finally took its toll on the 65-year-old building.
The Theatre closed for three years to undergo extensive renovations and enhancements under the eye of real estate developer The Kaempfer Company. The “new” Warner-opened in 1992 with a gala featuring Frank Sinatra (in his final D.C. appearance) and Shirley MacLaine-became once again a destination, not only for revitalized downtown Washington, but also for national and international recording artists and the finest in theatrical, dance, and television presentations.

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