Behind a pair of unremarkable doors, a remarkable bit of history is preserved.
The Georgetown Steam Plant was built in 1906, with the initial goal of powering a train line between Seattle and Tacoma.
The steam plant was built almost twenty-five years after Thomas Edison introduced electricity as a consumer product. Electricity was rapidly going from modern marvel to commodity on the East coast, and demand for a steady supply had reached the Pacific Northwest.
In addition to the Interurban Railway, the plant also powered Seattle streetcars and provided residential and industrial AC power to Georgetown, at the time an independent city.
The steam plant was built for the Seattle Electric Company by the engineering firm Stone & Webster, who were later key participants in the Manhattan Project.
The plant used a pair of first-generation Curtis Vertical Steam Turbo-generator turbines, manufactured by General Electric. The iPhone of its day, the Curtis was the first large-scale steam turbine developed by GE.
In 1917, a third turbine generator was installed. The steam needed to operate the plant was supplied by 16 boilers, fired using fuel oil or coal.
The plant remained in operation until 1964. It was kept on standby from 1971 through 1977, as part of a emergency power reserve plan for the region. In 1977 the plant was officially decommissioned. Three years later it became a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. In 1984, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Georgetown Steam Plant now operates as the Georgetown PowerPlant Museum, open to the public on the second Saturday of each month. The plant’s turbines remain operational, thanks to the tireless work of Lilly Tellefson and the late Paul Carosino. According to the museum’s literature, these are the world’s last operable examples of early vertical steam generating turbines.
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