PALESTINE — In 1886, historical documents show, Palestine became the first city in the state to have a domestic electric lighting plant, thanks to James Wisdom Ozment, a visionary and entrepreneur.
Ozment first saw incandescent lights during a trip to Dallas and came back to Palestine, where he convinced several skeptical associates that electric lighting could be sold to the public to light homes and businesses, according to a historical plaque downtown.
Ozment organized the Palestine Electric Light Co., and the Edison Illuminating Co. was granted a Palestine franchise on March 1, 1886.
“Until this time, Dallas was the only city in the state with a lighting plant and only one block was lighted on the courthouse square. Galveston was the only other city in the state that even had arc lights,” the historical marker states.
It says that turning on the first light in Palestine in the old wooden depot on Front Street, now Spring Street, was “quite a civic event.”
“When the light was turned on, due to a power surge from the plant, the bulb exploded. When the smoke cleared, the depot was empty. The crowd had jumped out of the windows and doors scrambling for safety.”
But, the plaque states, “On a second try, the light came on, and Palestine had its electric lights.”
It was the first central station incandescent system in Texas, according to the Texas Genealogy Trails web site.
Ozment also was involved in making telephones more viable in Palestine. The first telephone system had been installed in about 1882 but was poorly managed and inadequate for the needs of the growing town, the plaque states.
Ozment and a partner purchased Palestine Telephone Co. in about 1900, reorganized the company and put it on a paying basis, according to a historical marker.
The telephone exchange, then on the second story of a building at 217 W. Main, had 90 subscribers when Ozment bought it, but by 1906, it had grown to about 850 subscribers.
Ozment was president and general manager of the telephone company for many years.
Besides helping bring the first electric company to Palestine, Ozment spearheaded successful attempts to secure Palestine’s first gas company and first water company, according to historical accounts.
Born in Tennessee, Ozment moved to Texas in 1849 with his family at the age of 7. He was reared in Rusk in Cherokee County.
According to the Texas Genealogy Trails website, Ozment was attending Dolbach College in New Orleans when the Civil War broke out and enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army in 1861. He rose to the rank of acting adjutant and exoffcio provost marshal at Fort Duncan.
After the war, Ozment took up residence in Palestine, where he opened a small mercantile establishment, reputedly a dry goods store, and later added insurance and real estate.
According to one historical account, Ozment helped restore power to local residents in the aftermath of the Civil War and the occupation of Palestine by carpetbaggers.
Ozment was a member of Palestine’s first city council, according to an obituary in the Palestine Public Library. He and others organized Palestine National Bank, which opened in 1890, and he served as the first president.
Ozment also was president of the Palestine Loan Co., Palestine Real Estate and Investment Co., and Eureka Manufacturing Co. He was manager of the Water Works Co. and was instrumental in organization of the Business Men’s League, which later became Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ozment was a charter member of the Knights of Honor and reached the Knight Templar degree in the Masons. He belonged to the Knights of Pythias, the Woodman of the World and the Methodist Church.