Meridian Star

Local News

November 2, 2008

When steam was king

Festival brings forgotten power back to the forefront

In its day, steam was the most efficient and most readily available power source.

For many who walked through the Soulé Live Steam Festival in downtown Meridian on Saturday, the memory of steam rising into the blue sky again became fresh in their minds. And although the earliest steam-powered machines were not practical at first, the legacy of steam as a growing source of power dates back almost 2,000 years.

"Steam is a major part of our history — both as a nation and as a city," said Greg Hatcher, executive director of the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum which owes so much to the Soulé past. "Steam powered the city's first water plant. And although we don't have an example here today we have other machines, both big and small, that were as practical in their day as microwave ovens are today."

In fact steam turbines are still used today both for their practicality for being environmentally friendly.

In its sixth year as a festival showcasing the history of steam engines, Soulé has the unique honor of housing a fully operational Watts-Campbell Corliss steam engine.

Hatcher said this is one of the crowning glories of the museum. It is an example of steam engines that was initially slated to be shown in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. but instead the museum and Meridian were able to acquire the rare piece.

The history

For 110 years Soulé produced steam engines primarily for the lumber and timber industry. Many examples of the engines displayed and in operation featured lumber applications. These uses were among the many examples of how the older generation remembered the steam engines. But what about the youngsters who never had to deal with steam engines? Hatcher said the working history of the steam machines is enough to provide excitement for all ages.

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