The Salida steam plant was one of the first Edison electric plants in the country. Built in 1887 by the Salida Edison Electric Light Company, it operated until the 1950s. After 1989 the building was renovated and converted into a city-owned theater and event center.
Bringing Electricity to Salida
The Salida Edison Electric Light Company was founded in August 1887, when a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to build an electric light plant in Salida raised $15,000 to establish the Electric Illuminating Company. Soon they adopted the relatively new Edison system of lighting, first used in New York City in 1882, changed the company’s name to the Edison Electric Light Company, and secured a franchise to provide the city with electric light.
The Edison Electric Light Company soon began to build a steam plant, which introduced electricity to Salida. Construction started in September. The plant was located on the east bank of the Arkansas River, about a block from Salida’s main business district on F Street. The original steam plant was a single-story wood-frame building about twenty-eight square feet, with a seventy-five-foot smokestack. It housed one engine, two incandescent dynamos, and a boiler. The plant was completed in late November and first illuminated electric lights on the F Street Bridge on December 7, 1887.
Salida and the Edison Electric Light Company soon entered into a contract for the company to light the city for fifty dollars a month. New arc lights were installed throughout the city in 1889.
As the use of electricity grew, the original plant proved insufficient; it was expanded rapidly in the 1890s and early 1900s. By 1892 the building had been bricked over and enlarged to fifty square feet, with two engines, six dynamos, a much larger boiler room, and two smokestacks. Another smokestack was added by 1904, and another addition by 1916. By that time the several smaller smokestacks had been consolidated into one huge smokestack. A final major addition across the back of the plant came in 1926.
Meanwhile, the plant had changed hands several times. Salida Edison Electric merged with the Salida Light, Power and Utility Company in the early 1900s. The Salida electric system was acquired by the Colorado Power Company in 1916, and then by the Public Service Company of Colorado in 1924.
The steam plant operated until the 1950s. In 1958 it was converted to a storage building and began to be used as a warehouse, workshop, and garage. The smokestack was removed in 1959.
Theater and Event Center
In 1987 the Public Service Company of Colorado sold the steam plant for $40,000 to the Salida Enterprise for Economic Development, which later deeded the building to the city of Salida for ten dollars.
Renovations began in 1989. The building’s bricks were hand-brushed clean, the roof was fixed, and restrooms and handicapped facilities were added. The main body of the plant was converted into two large rooms with high ceilings, one for use as a theater and the other as a community and events room. In June 1989 the Powerhouse Players of Texas put on the first production in the theater room. Further renovations, including the addition of an outdoor sculpture garden, continued into the 1990s.
Now called the SteamPlant Event Center, the building regularly hosts concerts, movie screenings, conferences, and private events. The plant remains basically in its original condition, with modifications primarily to make the building more accessible.