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HYDRO ELECTRIC PLANT
 

By Jim Gould

HYDROELECTRIC PLANT (south of Route 28, near the junction of Route 149): Marstons Mills pioneered in producing clean energy in 1945, long before we knew about global warming. Dave Leland built the first and only hydroelectric plant on Cape Cod. One can still see huge concrete parts in ruin on the Barnstable Land Trust land on the south side of Route 28, where the river goes under the highway, although Ty Ranta cleaned up most of the works. Dave was a steam engineer from Damariscotta, Maine, and tugboat master, according to his friend Leonard Peck.  On a cold winter night, his tugboat was wrecked in Nantucket Sound, and he and the cook aboard rowed ashore in the lifeboat to the beach at Wianno. A true "wash-ashore," Dave married a local woman, Ruth Bearse, in 1910, but continued working on steam trawlers out of New Bedford until he finally settled down and built a machine shop in Cotuit. During World War II, gasoline was rationed, and kerosene used for home lighting was also scarce, since everything in a barrel of oil went to aviation gas for the Army Air Force. Electricity had still not come to the Cape.

Leland knew that the Marstons Mills River was a major source of power in the past, if not the biggest potential for power on the Cape. There had been at least seven mills along the watercourse, including a major fulling mill to clean wool and  several grist mills.  One had only recently shut down. He acquired the land at the mouth of the river and began building the plant. His major piece of equipment was what he called "My Digger." This consisted of two engines: a hoisting engine, which hoisted and dragged a blade over the earth; and a Stanley steamer motor to move the whole contraption. Leonard Peck told the story that one day Leland was arrested while driving the Digger east along Route 28, probably blocking traffic with its slow speed of about five miles per hour. The police officer cited a dozen violations, including no registration, no lights, no license plates, no brakes, etc. Dave got off, citing a law that permitted a federally-licensed engineer to drive a steam-driven machine anywhere in the state. 

After dark on the Fourth of July, 1945, Dave showed off the hydro-powered electric lights, gas-free and non-polluting, except for the smoke from the Digger. He managed to light one light bulb! 

Source: Leonard Peck, For Golden Friends I Had, Osterville 2000, pp. 277,288-9 (he dates the lights at 1951)

Photo of remains od the Hydroelectric plant in Marstons Mills

First and only hydroelectric plant on Cape Cod, constructed at foot of the Marstons Mills River to alleviate an acute energy shortage during WW2

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