In the early 1880s, Marshfield had a population of over 2,000 and the area’s economy centered on the lumber industry. W.H. Upham was the owner of the local lumber company, furniture factory, and veneer works. In 1885, Mr. Upham installed the first generator of electricity in the area to provide illumination for the furniture factory and some street intersections. At 5:10 pm on December 30, 1885, a large audience gathered to watch Mr. Upham pull the switch, and the first light illuminated. It was a breathtaking festive event; a celebration with food, music, and dancing followed to commemorate the occasion. The local paper best captured the significance of this moment with the headline: “And God Said, ‘Let There be light and there was light in Marshfield.’”
In June of 1887, a locomotive spark started a fire blaze at noon in the lumber yard of the Upham Furniture Factory. By that evening, the fire had swept across the entire town of Marshfield leaving 2,000 people homeless. After the fire, the people of Marshfield vowed to rebuild and they did.
In the early 1890s, Mr. Upham asked for and received, a franchise from the city to build and maintain a waterworks system. Mr. Upham wanted to construct a water system that would provide fire protection for his various businesses and serve the city. The waterworks supply was built in a spring area now known as Wildwood Park. The electrical utility relocated from its original home in the Upham mill yard to an entirely new power plant at the park.
By late 1903, the City Aldermen were not satisfied with the utility. Power failures were frequent. The water supply was compared to the color of mud, and the rigors of old-fashioned Wisconsin winters sometimes froze the water mains. The water mains were not always thawed out as quickly as customers felt they should be. To address the concerns, Mr. Upham proposed to the Aldermen that a committee be appointed to consider the feasibility of purchasing the Marshfield Water, Electric, Light, and Power Company. On March 1, 1904, the Common Council approved a decision to buy the privately-owned utility as recommended by the committee.
It began as a privately-owned company and became a public utility that still operates today, serving the greater Marshfield area.