A Friend of the Farmer- A.H. Wilkenson
From Bayfield’s storied historian Eleanor Knight, we learn much about financiering of the horticultural endeavors of the pioneering farming community on the Bayfield Peninsula through the works of Alonzo (Lon) Wilkenson. When the Lumberman’s Bank, originated by William Knight, Eleanor’s grandfather, was reorganized as the First National Bank in 1904, Wilkenson became its president. As president of the bank, he was the first one whose assistance was asked in pioneering new projects. It was in this position he learned of the bitter experiences and hardships of the pioneering farmers in the peninsula area. Wilkenson was president of the Bayfield Commercial Club since 1906 in which he helped organize.
In 1916, Mr. Wilkinson was drafted to run for the position of State Senator. The Bayfield County Press said, “Mr. Wilkinson did not want to run for the office, but when he was finally convinced by the heaviest kind of pressure that his district demanded that he should run, like the true patriot he is, he took off his coat and entered the arena.” Further from Eleanor Knight, “his campaign was conducted largely by his friends, and he was elected for four years.
In 1919 he was elected chairman of the Joint Finance Committee of the Senate and Assembly. His acquaintance with the struggles of the farmer in Northern Wisconsin caused him to lead the fight in rebuilding the Farm Mortgage Association Law. This law aided the development of improved and unimproved land and was so successful that it was used as a basis for national legislation.
Also, while in the Senate, he became interested in the disposition of war surplus explosives. The method being used by the Federal Government of dumping them into the Atlantic Ocean was to him wasteful. He was delegated to take up the matter with the Secretary of the Interior and, as a result, acquired free of charge a large portion of these explosives. He then succeeded in creating a Land Clearing Department in the College of Agriculture and the surplus explosives were used for over eight years in clearing land, saving the farmers of this state, and other states which adopted the plan, many thousands of dollars and it put into cultivation thousands of additional acres”.
This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.