north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Long interested in the use of electricity to power industrial machinery, Henry E. Fries of Salem founded the Fries Manufacturing and Power Company in the 1890s to harness the hydroelectric capability of the Yadkin River at Douthit’s Shoals. His uncle, Henry W. Fries, had operated a mill there. After discussing long distance transmission of electrical power with an electrical engineer during a trip to New York in 1896, Fries requested permission from his uncle to proceed with plans to develop the site. Construction began in 1897 on the Yadkin River at the location of the old Idol’s Ferry, thus the plant became known as Idol’s Hydroelectric Station. Former Lieutenant Governor Charles A. Reynolds was the project’s chief engineer. Investors in Fries Manufacturing and Power Company included electrical pioneers Thomas Edison and Frank Sprague.

     The dam built for the hydroelectric station was 482 feet long. Its reservoir covered about 35 acres. The flow of the dam generated about 2,000 to 2,700 horsepower. With operations beginning in April 1898, the Fries Manufacturing and Power Company was the first to transmit electrical power over a long distance—13 ¼ miles to Fries’s Arista textile mill. The station later provided power for other textile and grain mills, fertilizer plants, the Winston-Salem electric railway, electric street lights, and wood and metal working shops in Winston-Salem. In 1898 the fee for electricity was $20 per horsepower per year, twelve hours per day, with a minimum charge of twenty-five horsepower. The rate was doubled for plants operating a twenty-four hour day. At that time, for example, Arista Mill and the railway company were each using three hundred horsepower. Henry E. Fries sold his power company in 1913 to Southern Public Utility Company, which was, in turn, purchased by Duke Power in 1914. Duke Power operated the Idols station until 1996. The station burned on February 8, 1998.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Carolina Section, “Idol’s Hydroelectric Generating Station” (1984), brochure for inclusion as a Regional Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, available online at
Winston-Salem Journal, February 18, 1998, and May 31, 1992
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 244-245—sketch of Henry Elias Fries by Roger Kirkman
George F. Swain et al., Papers on the Waterpower in North Carolina (1899)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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