Philippi6 min read
By Zachary Hoffman, Manager of Communications and Publications
When the City of Philippi hosted the first Lurch Fest in August 2021, City Manager Jeremy Drennen wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
The small community of around 3,000 people on the banks of the Tygart Valley River was the hometown of actor Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch in The Addams Family, a 1960s dark comedy sitcom. In light of this, a collection of local groups came together to create a statue of the character in honor of the local celebrity.
The statue made for a fun, quirky addition to the Barbour County Historical Museum in Philippi, but city officials saw more than just an oddity — they saw an opportunity.
“We thought, hey, let’s have a fun little event where we unveil this new statue of Lurch,” Drennen said. “We can have a concert, some vendors, craft beer and make a little one-day festival out of it, just to see how it goes.”
The festival turned into a huge success, drawing in more visitors than the planners ever imagined.
“It just kept growing and growing, and we ended up bringing in several thousand people,” Drennen said. “That’s very significant for a town of our size.”
Like many things in Philippi, the big success of Lurch Fest couldn’t have happened without the efforts of Philippi Municipal Electric.
“We’ve never had an event in that area like that before, where we are bringing in vendors, food trucks and live music near our museum,” Drennen said. “It required our electric crew to be very involved in prepping the festival area, running a lot of temporary electric lines and getting the necessary infrastructure in place. If Philippi didn’t own its municipal electric utility, it couldn’t have happened. It’s just one of those little things where having our own utility really paid off.”
And paid off it has. While their work on Lurch Fest turned out to be a big deal for the city, it was far from the first time that Philippi Municipal Electric made a difference for the community.
In June 2021, the American Public Power Association awarded the City of Philippi with the Sue Kelley Community Service Award, recognizing the utility for “good neighbor” activities that demonstrate the commitment of a utility and its employees to the community. The honor came in recognition for all of the little things the utility does for the community, including downtown revitalization efforts and the city’s ongoing renovation of the historic Philippi Grand Theatre.
The Philippi Grand Theatre first opened its doors in the 1930s, primarily serving as a movie theater and malt shop until closing in 1999. The theatre’s commercial space was briefly home to a coffee shop in 2005, but the space was mostly left empty. In those years of disuse, the space fell into disrepair. Recognizing the potential of the Grand Theatre building, the Philippi Municipal Building Commission purchased the property and began an extensive renovation project.
The roof needed to be repaired first to prevent any further damage to the interior. With the help of Philippi Municipal Electric and their equipment, an old rooftop HVAC system was removed, making way for repairs on the roof so that interior renovations could begin.
“With our Grand Theatre Project, we really feel that it has the potential to jumpstart the revitalization of our downtown,” Drennen said. “It is a very unique building with two commercial units, and it has the potential to be the catalyst of our downtown growth and a real draw for students.”
Philippi is home to Alderson Broaddus University, which is the utility’s largest customer. The city believes its revitalization efforts, such as those of the Grand Theatre can help draw in students and other visitors throughout the year.
While drawing in visitors can be difficult, the city has the advantage of its rich history. Philippi was the site of the first organized land battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Philippi. Each year, the city hosts a re-enactment of the battle and other educational opportunities during its annual Blue & Gray Reunion event.
“In addition to history, the city has the Tygart Valley River. With two access points in the downtown area alone, visitors can use the waters for such activities as kayaking, fly fishing, tubing and more.
Many people are already coming for these attractions, but the city is hopeful that revitalization efforts will get them to stay longer. Without the electric utility, these efforts would be impossible.
“Having our own electric utility really gives us the ability to help Philippi’s various community organizations,” Drennen said. “We can lend a hand on projects that an investor-owned utility often couldn’t or wouldn’t want to deal with. Our guys care about the community, and they are invested in its growth.”
The fact that Philippi owns its electric utility makes it a rarity. While there are more than 2,000 communities that own their electric utility in the United States, there are only two in West Virginia. Drennen believes this provides Philippi with a distinct advantage in the state.
“Our reliability is off the charts and our average outage time is astoundingly low,” he said. “We have 75 miles of line, but it’s all in a very compact area. So, when there is an outage, our guys can get there fast and fix it.”
Philippi residents have come to appreciate the dependable, safe power that their municipal electric utility provides, but the community has also come to appreciate the little things the utility does. Philippi’s two-man electric crew is seen as a proven asset that most communities in the state don’t have.
The partnership between Philippi and AMP dates back to Jan. 16, 1997, when the city became the first non-Ohio member to join the organization. Philippi participates in the AMP Fremont Energy Center, landfill gas energy projects, Hydro Phase I and mutual aid, and is a strong supporter of public power and joint action.
The City of Philippi was established by charter in 1844 and is the Barbour County seat. The city has approximately 1,779 electric meters, 75 miles of electric line, an average load of 3.99 megawatts (MW) and an average peak of 6.92 MW.