Adams County’s Dam Man
George Polivka Brought Electric Power to Central Adams County
by Harry Davis
When George Polivka bought the Friendship Light and Power Company in May of 1914, the Adams County Press prophesied that the investment would “undoubtedly prove a satisfactory and lucrative investment for the new owner.” The prophecy turned out to be true, but there were troubles and challenges along the way.
George Polivka had owned a farm in Richfield Township for only five years when his interest in electricity prompted him to sell the farm and buy the water powered gristmill on Little Roche-A-Cri Creek at Friendship.
Over the next two years, Polivka removed the grinding stones, installed an electric generator and enlarged the dam on the creek. The local newspaper, commenting on the much larger body of water advised that it should henceforth be referred to as “Friendship Lake” as it was no longer a pond. (Locals still call it “Friendship Pond”)
At the same time Polivka went around to the homes and businesses in Friendship and the new village of Adams getting subscriptions for electrical service. Using the knowledge he gained from reading a few books on the subject, Polivka installed all the utility poles and wires himself and wired the homes that subscribed to service from the Friendship Electric Light and Power Company.
With the electric company up and running, Polivka built a large icehouse and began harvesting ice. He later sold the ice business to Ashworth Brothers.
While his ice business grew to be quite successful, ice in another form proved to be one of Polivka’s big challenges. On Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1922 the worst ice storm in history struck Adams County. The thick, heavy coating of ice on everything paralyzed transportation, tore down power lines and snapped utility poles. Newspapers predicted that many people might be without services until spring. In fact, George Polivka had restored electrical service to the majority of his customers within 24 hours of the storm’s end.
In 1922 Polivka bought property adjacent to the power plant, but facing Lake Street and the north end of Main Street in Friendship. On this property he built a fine brick house where he and his wife Mary lived and where he operated an electrical parts store in the basement for a number of years.
Perhaps with the idea in mind that a backup to the Friendship power plant was needed, Polivka bought four hundred acres about seven miles north of Friendship on Big Roche-A-Cri Creek in 1924 and built an electricity generating plant there. The location was the site, about 70 years prior to the thriving hamlet of “Cottonville”. In the 1850s Cottonville contained a lumber mill, a store, a blacksmith shop and a tavern. High water carried away the dam, the lumber mill was abandoned and the other businesses closed. The natural narrowing of Big Roche-A-Cri Creek that made for a good lumber mill location made it a good spot for an electrical power plant. (Still called Cottonville, the location thrives today as a recreational area. The dam and power plant are still in operation.)
In 1926, George Polivka sold the Friendship Electric Light and Power Company to Wisconsin Power and Light Company. Polivka stayed on with the firm as the local manager.
Having a backup to the Friendship power plant proved to be right. Having no interruption of service was the only bright spot when the worst disaster struck the original Friendship Lake dam. Early on a Wednesday morning in March 1928 floodwaters broke the dam on Friendship Lake and the rush of water undermined the foundations of the Highway 13 concrete bridge below the dam. The bridge collapsed into Little Roche-A-Cri Creek. Before barriers could be put up, a car approached from the north. George Polivka, Frank Hollman and George Armstrong were on the scene and attempted to flag the car to a stop, but the driver misunderstood until it was too late and the car plunged into the creek. Cecil Renner of Preston was the driver of the car. Jesse Brodt of Preston and William Brodt of Beloit were passengers. Renner was able to escape from the car and was pulled from the water by the bystanders. The bodies of the Brodts were found down stream later that day.
Immediately after the tragedy the Wisconsin Power and Light Company promised to rebuild the dam and power plant. The company actually went further and replaced the wooden building with a brick building that still exists and is in use today. At the same time, the company upgraded the generating system to generate considerably more power than previously.  The company paid $4,500 as settlement for the damage to the Highway 13 bridge. In building the new bridge, the bridge abutments were joined with the walls of the dam to make a solid concrete wall from the dam to the lower side of the bridge. The work was completed in January 1929.
George Polivka did not retire, but continued with several business interests and worked daily at his service station across the street from his house until his death in 1962. He was recognized more for his philanthropy later in life. He and his wife Mary donated the land for the Adams County Memorial Hospital built in 1959 and made many other contributions to the community. On his death he left a trust fund to be used for Mary’s comfort until her death and then for the Adams County Memorial Hospital. Fittingly, for a man that brought power to a growing community and never stopped working, that trust is still being put to use today in the still growing community.
Note: This article previously appeared in the Summer 2003 edition of the Adams County Historical Society’s newsletter, The Quatrefoil.
 Adams County Press, May 1914
 Adams County Times/Friendship Reporter, July 23, 1986
 Friendship Reporter, February 14, 1924
 From Past to Present – The History of Adams County, Adams County Historical Society, New Past Press, p. 125
 Friendship Reporter, March 15, 1928
 Friendship Reporter, March 15, 2003
 Friendship Reporter, October 18, 1928.
 Adams County Times-Friendship Reporter, July 23, 1986.