Marshfield, April 1903: Tilton comes to town
The creation of the Wisconsin Development Association
By Kris Leonhardt
As Lester Tilton made preparations to travel to Marshfield in April of 1903, he felt a sense of pride about what the future held. German-born and -educated, Tilton had studied civil engineering prior to his move to central Wisconsin.
Tilton owned a real estate agency and held property in the Lindsey, Neillsville, and Withee areas. He was well known for his clean and upright business transactions as well as his work in Clark County politics.
On this day Tilton would join approximately 30 other land agents and owners from central and northern Wisconsin to form an alliance that would benefit the greater good of the individuals involved as well as the state of Wisconsin.
As he entered the Marshfield clubhouse, which was home to the Elks, his eyes glanced around at the variety of individuals that gathered. Though the room consisted of men of various ethnicities, experience levels, and social standings, the group had one common goal: to draw new settlers to the area.
The majority of the men were large landowners and prominent real estate men. Feeling the push from the western United States and Canadian landowners that were drawing the interest of pioneering immigrants, the group wished to encourage immigration to the central and northern Wisconsin regions.
By the end of the day, the Wisconsin Development Association had been formed. A $100 membership fee would gain interested individuals access to the group, which included the likes of B.F. McMillan, F. Reitbrock, and A.A. Perkins.
Tilton, now a member of the association’s Board of Directors, would help lead the group as it adopted its bylaws and constitution and planned quarterly meetings. Within a month the group was 50 strong and spending $5,000 to advertise and promote land interest in the area.
By July of that year, the group totaled 100 members and was making great strides in drawing attention to the central and northern properties available in Wisconsin.
The group would become instrumental in developing the vast Wisconsin woodlands and increasing its population.
Tilton would have a successful career as a real estate agent as well as a local politician. He would find himself the subject of news headlines later that decade when he received a letter with a promise of campaign money if he ran for assembly in exchange for supporting Isaac Stephenson for United States senator and liquor interests. Tilton’s testimony would find its way to all the major newspapers of that time.