Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

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He Gave Dungannon Electric Lights

By TAMI HILLMAN

     The past of Otto B. Dingus is as entwined with Scott County's as is the Daniel Boone Trail. In fact, Dingus-now 88 years old-is very much a pioneer himself.

     Dingus gave the Dungannon area its first power for electric lights, building a power plant on the Clinch River almost single handedly when the utility companies would not provide power.

     Still engulfed in Scott County history and tradition, Dingus-along with his wife Sina-is preserving much of the regionís past in a number of mountain crafts. He has burned the images of several old area mills in wood and his home is a museum of handmade furniture and other handiwork-despite the loss of a leg two years ago.

     Dingus was born March 8, 1892, "about three miles down the river." Mrs. Dingus was born Sina Jones on March 6, 1894, in the Clinchport area.

     Although the couple wanted to marry before Dingus went marching off to fight in World War I, they decided to wait.

     "Otto had to serve his duty. He served one year and one day." Mrs. Dingus recalled. "When he returned home, we were married. " That was in 1919.

     Naturally, the couple needed a home, so Dingus built one. They moved in "with just the sub-floors, studding and plywood partitions. Doing all the carpentry work himself, Dingus completed the house in 1923. The couple still lives in that first home.

     In the late 20s, Dungannon did not have electric power. However, Dingus became determined to bring the newly developed energy to the area. The enterprising young man set about looking for feasible ideas.

"A Mr. Charles Brickley had built a mill on an island on the Clinch River in the early 18th century," Dingus explained. "By the time I started working on my idea, there was nothing but a canal and one pillar stone still intact. That canal was all I needed."

     Dingus said he never really knew what led him to begin the project. "I guess desperation prompted it," he said. "The valley needed electricity . We had been trying to get the Old Dominion Power Co. from Norton to set up a plant, but things just never worked out. We had exhausted every avenue. I finally realized I could use the Clinch."

     So Dingus began an industrious undertaking-to build a hydroelectric plant, supply the area with needed electricity and wire the houses to use that power.

     Even more remarkable than the fact that he did it was the fact that he did it with no former knowledge of the subject.

     The project really started taking shape when the VIC Coal Company sold Dingus a much needed alternator, or generator. The equipment formerly had been used to supply the town of Norton with power. Dingus also found the needed turbines, one near Tazewell and the other near Abingdon.

     The construction finally began. The plant was completed in 1934, and, of course, was a success. Almost single-handedly Dingus gave the area its first taste of a luxury; for the first time, electric lights burned brightly in over 100 Dungannon homes. The town used the plant for two years.

     Dingus still doesn't really know how he accomplished the feat. "I guess I knew it had to be done and did it," he said.

     The Dingus home is a tribute to a proud-and enterprising heritage. Hand worked furniture and other handmade items furnish the house. Dingus' handmade looms stand in a back room, where they still are used. The air often has danced with the whirr of the two weaving their own cloth and ornaments.

     Dingus easily demonstrates the use of his specially constructed loom, which is rigged to run by hand rather than by foot as with traditional models.

     The wizened hands of the spry gentleman also have turned out many a handmade grandfather clock and fashioned oak, cherry and even papaw wood into works of art. Lathe-turned chairs dot the house.

     The elderly craftsman also has made four-poster beds, trays, lamps, tables and even a "gout rocker" better known as a footstool. Five of Dingus' works grace the walls of the Masonic Lodge in Dungannon. Motifs of five area mills are burned onto 18-inch by 24-inch wooden plaques. The Ruritan Club room boasts of wood-burned covered wagons and oxen teams.

     Mr. and Mrs. Dingus are lifetime members in the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild.

     Mr. and Mrs. Otto B. Dingus are remarkable people, who don't believe in growing old and useless.

Mr. And Mrs. Otto B. dingus Contributing Much In Golden Years

 

Note: October 1, 1980 handwritten in margin.

 

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