After burning almost uninterrupted for more than a century, the natural gas streetlights in this tiny village in western New York were definitely showing their age.
Since 1912, more than 40 of the historic fixtures had illuminated Wyoming, the self-proclaimed “Gaslight Village” and home to about 500 residents of about an hour’s drive south of Rochester.
Along the tiny cluster of streets, there are gaslights in front of businesses, homes and churches, including the post office, the Methodist and Baptist churches, and the local grocery store.
But after decades of use and exposure to the elements, the cast-iron light fixtures were falling apart and corroded, leaving village officials facing a decision: Abandon gaslight, which almost all of the country had done long ago, or save their distinctive streetscape as one of the last reminders in New York State of this bygone era?
“These gas lights have been burning since I can remember,” said Village Historian Doug Norton, who is the mayor’s brother. “The only time they have been turned off was during World War II, because of the blackout regulations.”
Norton said the lights are a point of pride and heritage for the small village. “The lights are pretty cool and something different. They are unique.”
Originally founded in 1809 as Newell’s Settlement, the small village is in a part of the state were natural gas was developed in the 19th century. A gas company outside the village agreed to provide free gas for the public streetlights for 99 years in exchange for being allowed to install pipes in the village so gas could be sold to homes and businesses. That contract expired in 2011 and now the village is paying for its gas.
A 1912 advertisement for the model of natural gas streetlight found in Wyoming, followed by historical photographs of the village showing the lights in use.
Wyoming is a reminder of life before electricity was widespread, when natural gas was the most popular method of both outdoor and indoor lighting in cities and towns.
But unlike Wyoming, most places discarded gas streetlights once electricity became widely available after the turn of the 20th century. Natural gas streetlights now can be found only in a handful of places, including parts of Boston, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, as well as in foreign cities like Prague and Berlin.
That makes these remnants of the Gaslight Era a very rare resource here in New York and worth protecting as part of State Park’s mission under the Historic Preservation Act of 1980.
In Wyoming, thanks to a $65,000 state grant obtained by Senator Patrick Gallivan, and with support from the Division of Historic Preservation at State Parks, 19 of the original 42 historic lights were painstakingly restored and now can continue burning for decades to come.
Original luminaries were removed from the poles and sent out for restoration. A professional metalsmith disassembled the lights, removed dents, removed corroded metal and replaced it with new metal, and cleaned up and painted the street lights to match their original finish. After lamps were reinstalled on their refurbished poles, the flow of gas was restored and the lights relit.
The restored natural gas streetlights of Wyoming.
Lights in The Night
Another 20 lights are replacements – a mix of historic lights from other communities that were discarding their fixtures in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as modern replicas.
Research into the gas luminaries was done by a team headed by Senior Historic Site Restoration Coordinator Beth Cumming, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator Sloane Bullough, Bureau of Technical Preservation Services Director John Bonafide, and National Register Western New York representative Jennifer Walkowski.
It was learned that the fixtures were made by manufacturer Thomas T. W. Miner Company of New York City. This information was used to augment the existing historic district National Register of Historic Places nomination.
While the Thomas T. W. Miner Company is long since out of business, the quality and endurance of their product is a fitting legacy _ and one that will continue to light the night in Wyoming for generations to come.
Post by Sloane Bullough, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, and Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for State Parks
This project was among ten projects honored this month with State Historic Preservation Awards. Read about the projects here.
All photographs provided by State Parks and Village of Wyoming