The first public utility company in Centerville was Centerville Light, Heat and Power Co., incorporated in July, 1890. It built a small gas manufacturing plant on the corner of 13th and Washington, the site of the future generating station. This small gas engine, augmented by a small steam Corliss engine, provided power for a 40-lamp electric-arc street lighting system. In 1896 it installed a 100-kilowatt direct current generator to operate its first commercial electric lighting system.
In 1900 the name of the fledgling utility was changed to Citizens Light and Gas Co. In 1902, with Frank Payne as the first president, they purchased the mule team line and obtained a franchise to operate an electric powered railway system in its place. Three electric street cars began operation in Nov., 1902.
The route of the electric railway began at the Rock Island depot and went a block west to 18th St. and thence north to the Burlington depot. It continued north to Walsh St. where it jogged west to 16th St., thence north to Sheridan. Going west on Sheridan, it passed the palatial home of C.F. Howell, which later became the Elks Club and still later, the location of the headquarters offices of Iowa Southern Utilities Co., which gradually fashioned a vast electric system from Creston to Newton to Burlington on the Mississippi River.
Patti Gleason once told me that her grandfather, Mr. C.F. Howell wrote to the company to and requested special dispensation for his little dog to ride with him on the electric railroad to his downtown office.
The route turned north on Drake Ave. to go past three of the most beautiful and expensive homes in Centerville. The first one, at 707 Drake, was built by F.M. Drake in 1892 for his daughter, Mary (Mrs. George) Sturdevant. This has been renovated by Morgan Cline recently and is now called the Beck Mansion. The next one, at 617 Drake, was also built in 1892 by F.M. Drake and was his residence through the years when he was governor of Iowa. After his death, his son-in- law Dr. John Sawyers lived in it, followed by Lazelle Sawyers, president of the Centerville National Bank. It was demolished by his wife Almira in 1957. The third was the D.C. Bradley home built in 1909. It has also been renovated by Morgan Cline and is now the Bradley Shoppes.