(On this date, August 17, 2014, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present to the world the first of the five members of the new OCHF Class of 2014)
Lemuel Kurtz Green was born November 1, 1860, at Stovers Town, Blair County, Pennsylvania. The son of Phineas and Nancy (Kurtz) Green, he moved with his parents in 1877 to a farm near Bull City (now Alton), Kansas.
“A fervent Methodist with a solid work ethic, Lemuel attended the local school, and his first job aside from that of the home farm was that of workman in a saw mill and corn mill. In compensation he received his board and eleven dollars a month, but his pay was largely in cornmeal, sorghum molasses and cottonwood lumber. About the time that Lemuel engaged in this work his father needed a shovel to dig a well for the home farm, and as cash for the purchase was lacking, Lemuel approached Hiram Bull, who had been a distinguished union officer in the Civil War and who was then engaged in business in Bull City, the town he co-founded. Bull listened to the talk of Lemuel and readily agreed to extend him the requested credit in the purchase of the shovel.” – From a letter by Adaline Green to Orville Guttery, May 22, 1934.
Lemuel was then employed four years for William Bush at the Alton Roller Mill, located a mile south of Bull City on the South Fork Solomon River.
In 1882 Lemuel moved to Graham County, Kansas, where he claimed a homestead and a timber claim and lived in a sod house. The next year he married Adaline Dirstine in Osborne County. They would raise two children, Ralph and Lawrence, to adulthood.
Lemuel proved up on his two claims and then traded them for a flour mill in Lenora, Kansas. Three years later he turned his interest in this mill over to his father and his brother, Irvin, and in 1890 returned to Bull City, now called Alton, and purchased the Alton mill from his former employer, William Bush. Lemuel operated this flour mill for the next 12 years, serving on the Alton city council as well as mayor.
“We are told that L. K. Green sold the old mill property, including the feed grinder, to Hollis Snyder and one of the Emrick’s, of Mt. Ayr. Alton Empire, January 23, 1902, Page 5.
“When L. K. Green, of Alton, after looking the state over with a view to erecting a large flouring mill, decided that Osborne, Kansas was the most desirable place, his wisdom was applauded by the businessmen of this city. The reasons for his choice were obvious. In the center of a fine wheat producing section, with no flouring mill of any size close at hand, and with a railway company lending its cooperation, there is no great wonder at Mr. Green’s selection. After surmounting some difficulties in the way of securing a proper mill site, in which the citizens of Osborne gave generous financial aid, the Solomon Valley Milling Company was organized February 15, 1902, with the following officers: President, L. K. Green; secretary and treasurer, C. W. Landis; directors, F. W. Gaunt and S. J. Hibbs, of Alton, Allen Clark, L. K. Green and C. W. Landis . . .
“Upon the completion of the organization of the company, steps were immediately taken toward the erection of one of the finest flouring mills in this section. A short description of this mill, which is fast nearing a finished state, will prove of interest to the readers of this issue of the Farmer. The total ground dimensions of this building are 64 x 72 feet. The main part of the building is 32×56 feet, with three stories and a basement. The warehouse will have a capacity often minded, and withal a good business man, carloads of manufactured products, and he seems to have been fitted by nature the mill will have a wheat storage capacity of 30,000 bushels. The engine and boiler room will be in a detached stone building, thus lessening the danger from fire. The motive power will be furnished by a steel boiler, 5 x 16 feet in size, of a high pressure type and carrying 160 pounds working pressure. The engine is a Corliss compound condensing, with 130 horse power. The mill will have a capacity of 200 barrels per day, and will be equipped with five wheat cleaners, nine stands of rolls, eight purifiers, three sieve bolting machines, and all the other necessary appliances . . .
“The company is putting in a full rye grinding outfit, and will make the manufacturing of rye flour a specialty. It expects also to do a large custom business, although of course its main dependence will be export trade. The product of this mill will be high patent flour of the very finest quality, strictly straight grade and a fancy baker’s grade. Work is being rapidly pushed on the building, and it is expected that it will be completed and in operation sometime between July 1 and 15. With an eye to business, the Missouri Pacific railway has already put in a switch 600 feet long for the exclusive use of this mill . . . Osborne County Farmer, May 15, 1902, Page 12.
Lemuel started experimenting with electricity by wiring his home and lighting it with electric current from the mill. He then installed electric lights, an early electric washing machine and even an unsuccessful electric-powered dishwasher. Lemuel followed this by stringing wires for lighting homes within a mile of his mill at Osborne. Convinced of the potential for electric power, he sold his flour milling operations in Osborne in 1908 and purchased the Concordia Electric Light Company for the princely sum of $21,500. This company owned the H. M. Spalding hydroelectric plant on the Republican River. Lemuel soon installed transmission lines to serve several nearby towns. To help finance the system, he convinced local voters to approve bonds to build the transmission lines. His construction crew often included his two sons, Ralph and Lawrence.
Prior to Green’s purchase the company generated power only dawn to midnight and was closed on Sundays. Green bought power from another flour mill and began selling power to neighboring towns. Within a matter of years, L.K. Green & Sons Electric Light and Power was serving 22 communities in northern Kansas.
In 1916 Lemuel sold the Concordia plant for $550,000. With this cash he then bought the Reeder Light, Ice & Fuel Company in Pleasant Hill, Missouri and with his sons formed the Green Power & Light Company. Lemuel then built Baldwin Lake, which was used for hydroelectric power as well as provide water for the community.
In 1922, looking to expand with a generating plant at Clinton, Missouri, Lemuel took the company public under the name West Missouri Power Company. The company would expand through southwest Missouri.
After four years he sold this company to the Fitkin Group again, which merged with the Missouri Public Service Company. Later this company became UtiliCorp, which later became Aquila, and now is part of Great Plains Energy, currently one of the largest utility companies in the world.
In his later years Lemuel retired to Escondido, California where he bought a 2,000-acre orange grove.
Lemuel Green passed away on July 5, 1930, in Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, and was laid to rest in Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City. He now joins his son Ralph Jerome Green in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.
SOURCES: Alton Empire, January 23, 1902; Osborne County Farmer, May 15, 1902; Western Empire newspaper, June 13, 1895; Illuminating the Frontier, https://www.blackhillscorp.com/sites/default/files/bhc-ilwe-ch1.pdf; Aquila, http://www.wikipedia.org; Tales of a Town Named Bull City, Orville Guttery & edited by Von Rothenberger, Ad Astra Publishing, 2011); Bliss Van Gundy, “Osborne County Pioneers”, Osborne County Farmer, April 15, 1971.