The story of Sunday – Long, “City of Light” catapulted into the 20th century thanks to its hydroelectric power station

Hydroelectric power from the Somme provided electricity and running water for Long’s homes for 65 years. From 1903 it was a revolution for the thousand or so inhabitants, while rural France was then mainly lit by kerosene lamps.

Located on an arm of the Somme, halfway between Amiens and the bay, the small building is the pride of the village of Long.

Intact red brick walls, firmly installed on their pile construction. Inside, the engine room and its three turbines, two of which are original and remain in operation occasionally for visitors: about 500 a year who discover this jewel of Picardian heritage.

Construction of the facility began in 1901 by decision of the then municipal council. “The city was then enriched thanks to the peat extraction that is present in large quantities on these marshy lands.“, comments Amanda Lecuyer, heritage facilitator at the Baie de Somme Picardy Maritime Regional Natural Park – she takes care of some of the guided tours of the site.

Used as fuel for heating, peat was extracted from the ground and marketed on a massive scale from the 19th century. “Long had the most. A lot so large that it was sold to neighboring communities. Pont-Rémy or Fontaine-sur-Somme, for example“.

Thus began Long’s golden age. “The town hall had just been built, as well as the schools and the train station. The Saint-Jean-Baptiste church has been enlarged…“, lists Amanda Lecuyer. The logical continuation: It’s the hydroelectric power station. Another step towards modernization.

The community is banking on harnessing the river’s energy to power homes. Two years later, on June 7, 1903, the facility was inaugurated with a celebration. A small revolution for the residents, who initially bought one light bulb per household.

We were allowed to use one faucet per house and one lamp per room. (with alternative use, editor’s note). We couldn’t overtake. In winter, the land guard would come to the farm and stables to take inventory of the number of animals. We paid for water based on the number of animals we had‘ testified a retired farmer from Longin in 1998.

Long, also known as the “City of Light”, even fascinates Paris. The power station is the star of this small town, halfway between Amiens and the Bay of Somme. “You could see the village from afar. Also, the train between Paris and the North slowed as it approached‘, the park agent mentions.

It’s extraordinary for the time. The peat provides comfort to the village: electricity and running water. Conversely, Abbeville, for example, had to wait until after the war to adopt these advances.

On the ground floor of the facility, belts, gears and other cogs mesh. With a gesture, the technician activates the rudder and releases the turbines. Then the gears start moving and convert the energy of the water into electricity. A direct current of 110 volts.

With a flow rate of around 8 cubic meters per second per turbine, the system now produces enough to light around ten households. At that time, the entire city of Long was supplied with three neighboring villages. The city then had a thousand inhabitants compared to around 630 today and since the post-war period.

In 1961 a generator was added to boost production in the face of growing household and city needs: public lighting, the castle, which were energy intensive. “It made a lot of noise. The mechanic and his wife lived in the company apartment above. They were forced to put matches between the glasses and leaves between the plates to limit the rattling caused by the vibration“.

In Long, the bill is based on the number of lightbulbs per household, notes Amanda Lecuyer. Until 1968. After two floods, the city is connected to the electricity grid. “In order to be able to operate the turbines, there must be a waterfall between the upper and lower reaches. When the river floods, the fall stops. So there is no longer any driving force‘ explains the mediator. In view of these technical difficulties, hydraulic power is abandoned.

However, the building with its machines has been preserved. It was classified as a historical monument in 1984. “Longinians are very attached to it“, adds Amanda Lecuyer. Since 1991, the site has been open to the public, for free or guided visits by prior reservation.

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