Popular perceptions of utility companies, particularly those that provide electricity, often include images of enormous corporate entities with millions of dollars invested in infrastructure to manage intricate networks of power lines conveying electricity to customers throughout the country. It would seem, in such an environment, that a small, family-owned power company stood little chance of succeeding. For the better part of the 20th century, however, that is just what a small company in Bozrah did.
Bozrah Light & Power Company, or BL&P, Started by Cotton Mill
In 1921, the city of Norwich created a reservoir upstream from a cotton mill operated by Nathan Gilman in Bozrah. To compensate for the reduced flow reaching the mill’s water-powered machinery, Gilman asked the city to extend a power line to his mill. When the city declined, Gilman decided to hook the line up himself and then began purchasing electricity from the city of Norwich.
When local farmers saw the electricity flowing at the cotton mill, they asked Gilman to tie their homes into his line—a request to which Gilman acquiesced. Suddenly, residents who had never known what it was like to experience electricity had power flowing to their homes. Shortly after, Nathan founded the Bozrah Light & Power Company (BL&P) to provide electricity to all the homes and farms in the surrounding area.
The operation of BL&P began strictly as a family affair with a focus on providing exemplary service to the local community. Nathan set up a small office across the street from the cotton mill and hired his sons, Charles and Lawrence, to dig holes for the utility poles and run the lines. As his sons ran lines, Nathan kept busy operating his power company while also serving as the postmaster of the local post office for 38 years (retiring in 1949).
The company became a fixture of the local community, sending out gifts (like potholders) to customers every Christmas and passing on savings whenever possible. This often meant providing benefits such as the rate reductions given to residents, farmers, churches, and synagogues in 1964 and ’65.
Gilman Family Business Becomes Part of Groton Utilities
The 1970s, however, brought about an entirely new set of challenges for BL&P. By 1974, the Gilmans’ company was not only Connecticut’s smallest power company but also the only privately owned power company in the state. With Charles now serving as president, his brother Lawrence as vice president, and 95-year-old Nathan acting as the company’s treasurer, BL&P struggled during the nation’s massive energy crisis. President Charles Gilman called the company profitable, but “barely” so.
By the mid-70s, BL&P had roughly 1,500 customers, but only generated 2% of its own electricity. It purchased the other 98% from Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P). This left BL&P customers susceptible to the numerous rate hikes the state legislature approved for CL&P—hikes that doubled the price BL&P customers paid for electricity between 1971 and 1976.
While the company held out for another 2 decades, on May 5, 1995, BL&P became a part of Groton Utilities. Today it operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Groton Utilities—providing power to 3,000 residents in Bozrah and parts of Lebanon, Franklin, Montville, and Salem.