Fishers Island Utility Co. History
Discovered in 1614 by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, Fishers Island was settled in 1644 by Englishman John Winthrop, Jr., who later became the first colonial governor of Connecticut. The Island remained an undivided Winthrop property for more than 200 years, used primarily as a stock farm.
In 1863, Robert Ralston Fox, a retired merchant, purchased the entire Island from the last of the Winthrop owners. Following Mr. Fox’s death, the Fox family estate began selling land lots to the public in 1876. The Island’s infrastructure grew with each new development. New roads were created to connect dozens of building sites at the west end. Steamers were soon bringing 100s of visitors to the Island creating new demand for communication services.
The first submarine communication cable linking the mainland and Fishers Island was laid in July 1885 by the New London and Fishers Island Telegraph Co. It terminated near the Lyles Beach Hotel (later Munnatawket) at the entrance of West Harbor at a site where mainland cables still “land.” The first telegraphic transmission from Fishers Island was made on July 22, 1885 and newspaper reports indicate that limited telephone service from the hotel also began at this time.
1889: The Ferguson Era Begins
In 1889, approximately nine-tenths of Fishers Island was purchased by Edmund M. Ferguson, a businessman and banker, who later conveyed an undivided half to his brother, Walton Ferguson. Operating under the business name of “E.M. & W. Ferguson” they invested heavily in both creating new and upgrading existing infrastructure. Their desire was to create an infrastructure that could sustain a first class resort for decades to come.
Within 15 years of their purchase, the Fergusons had purchased Fishers Island Telegraph Co. (1889), founded a navigation company (1891), laid a new communication cable (1892), renovated one major hotel and greatly expanded another (both 1892), built a steam-generating electric power plant (1899), constructed a waterworks with a distribution system consisting of a pumping station, a pumping main, and a reservoir (1904), reestablished three farms, and greatly expanded the road system.
Early 1890’s: The Fishers Island Telephone Co.
Fishers Island Telegraph Co. was purchased by the Ferguson brothers and incorporated.
1892: New Submarine Communication Cable
New submarine cables were laid by the Southern New England Company.
1899: Coal Power
A steam-generating plant (coal-fired) was financed by a group of ten prominent Fishers Islanders that included E.M. & W. Ferguson, Robert P. Linderman (founder of Bethlehem Steel), Garrett B. Linderman, and George Bartlett. They organized under the name “Fisher’s Island Electric Light, Heat and Power Co.” starting with 199 customers. (The original brick structure across from Dock Beach is still used by Fishers Island Electric Corporation as its power plant.)
1904: Water Pumped from Barlow Pond and Island Pond
The heart of the entire 1904 water system was the brick pumping station located on Barlow Pond that pumped potable water through a pumping main from Barlow Pond (13 acres surface area) and adjacent Island Pond (47 acres) to the Belle Hill Reservoir atop Shingle Hill. The original Belle Hill Reservoir—perched above the Mansion House Cottages—had a capacity of 330,000 gallons, a diameter of 51 feet, a depth of 22 feet, and 24-inch thick brick walls. Water was gravity fed from its tank which stood at the highest spot on the west end.
1912: New Submarine Communication Cable
A new (2 pair) submarine cable was laid in 1912 that connected the telephone system on the Island with the mainland in Groton, Connecticut. It was owned by Southern New England Telephone Company. After a complete overhaul by SNET Company, the Island system had 2 switchboards, with 5 trunk lines and a total of 106 subscriber lines in use.
1918: Second Generation Assumes Control
In 1918, the second generation of Ferguson owners, led by Henry L. and Alfred L. Ferguson, consolidated most of the Ferguson businesses, including utilities, under the umbrella company, “Fishers Island Farms, Inc.”
1922: New Power Cable to Groton
With the power plant proving inadequate due to increased demand, Fishers Island began receiving power from Groton, CT by way of a new steel armored submarine cable (13,800-feet long) to the “Hut” at Munnatawket Beach.
1925: Olmsted Plan
The Fergusons organized a major expansion of the Island’s infrastructure when they developed the eastern two-thirds of Fishers Island as a separate “residential colony.” New water, power and communication lines, plus considerable road building accompanied the development, known today as the “Olmsted Plan.”
1926: New Submarine Power Cable & New Reservoir
The original electric service submarine cable was replaced and a second backup cable laid as emergency measure. One cable brought power to the “Hut” and the other to Middle Farms.
Chocomount Hill Reservoir (Top of the World) was built with a capacity of 500,000 gallons and Middle Farms Pond water supply was added as a back-up water supply.
1927: Water Filtration Plant
A water filtration plant was built in 1927 to treat, filter and chlorinate the Island’s lake-based water supply.
1928: New Submarine Communication Cable
A new (56 pair) submarine cable (13,650 feet) was laid between the Island and the mainland at Groton Long Point and the cut-over to a new telephone dial service to replace the magneto type was completed.
1940: Fishers Island Electric Corporation formed
Due to conflicts with its real estate business, the Fishers Island Farms, Inc. sold all the properties of the electrical supply system to the newly formed public utility “Fishers Island Electric Corporation” in November 1940.
1941: Diesel Power
A new diesel generating plant went on-line February 9, 1941 as part of a strategy to eliminate dependency on mainland power supply and to reduce the threat of power outages caused by storms and accidents to the submarine cable. It was powered by four diesel generating units (Nordbergs).
Early 1950’s ~ New Diesel Generator added
A new GM diesel generator was added to the power plant.
1962: New Mainland Power Supply Cable
A new submarine cable was laid between Groton and Fishers Island to provide the Island’s main power supply. The local diesel generators were switched to “back-up” and emergency use.
1965: The Fishers Island Utility Co. formed
The period of Ferguson control of the infrastructure ended when a group of Fishers Island residents stepped in to purchase the Fishers Island Farms, Inc. after Farms’ President Lee Ferguson became seriously ill. The new owners reorganized the company in 1965 under the name Fishers Island Utility Co. Their stated purpose was “to furnish Fishers Island with vital Electric, Telephone and Water Service,” which they continue to do to this day.
1966: Second GM Diesel Generator
A second GM diesel generator was added for redundancy.
1968: New Submarine Power Cable
A new submarine power cable was laid between Groton Long Point and Fishers Island to replace the original corroded cables of the 1920s.
1988: Middle Farms Well Water Supply
Wells were dug in the aquifer of Middle Farms to provide a cost effective plentiful supply of good quality water.
1989: New Submarine Power Cable
A new submarine power cable was laid from Groton to Fishers Island meet the increased demands of modern electrical devices such as air conditioners, swimming pools, televisions and computers.
1992: Digital Phone Switching
Call-waiting and other new service features were added when the telephone company installed a digital switching system.
Early 2000’s: Internet Microwave Tower
A microwave tower was installed to offer internet service.
2010: Diesel Peak-Shaving Back-up Generator
A CT Utility owned diesel powered back-up generator is installed for peak-shaving to provide an emergency power source for Fishers Island Electric Corporation customers.
The Fishers Island Utility Company continues to own and manage the water, telephone and electrical utilities. Power today is provided by submarine cable with the exception of occasional emergency power provided by a diesel – powered backup generator. Telephone and internet services are provided by FCC licensed micro wave connection to the mainland. Water is supplied by the wells from Middle Farms aquifer with back-up pond water during summer months and emergencies.
Four employees are part of the telephone company, four employees are assigned to the electric company and two are with the water company. The companies share three office employees.