By Warner M. MontgomeryWarner@TheColumbiaStar.com
Little Tommy Wilson played in his mother’s garden on Hampton Street 130 years ago while his father taught at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Ninety years ago, Little Tommy, then President Woodrow Wilson, created the Federal Land Banks. Last Monday, July 24, 2006, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, successor to the Columbia Federal Land Bank, gave back to Little Tommy Wilson.
Andy Lowrey, president and CEO of AgFirst, announced that AgFirst was joining Historic Columbia Foundation (HFC) in a partnership to restore Little Tommy’s boyhood home with a check for $5,000. Lowrey recalled how President Wilson, distressed with the American farm situation, organized a committee of congressmen to study the farm situation in Europe. They returned with a recommendation that became the Federal Farm Loan Act.
Wilson signed the act on July 17, 1916, making credit very easily accessible to farmers in need. This law divided the country into 12 regions where Federal Land Banks would be established. This was the first of the three lending institutions which comprise today’s cooperative Farm Credit System. The Federal Land Bank of Columbia was chartered a year later on March 16, 1917.
AgFirst, part of the Farm Credit System, is the premier agricultural lender in the eastern U.S. and Puerto Rico, providing more than $13 billion in loans to more than 80,000 farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses through affiliated financial cooperatives. Part of the Columbia community since 1916, AgFirst has grown as Columbia has grown. With assets exceeding $16 billion, AgFirst is now the largest financial institution headquartered in S.C.
Robin Waites, executive director of the HFC, said the Wilson home is the only presidential house in S.C. and was the only home ever owned by Little Tommy’s parents. The home was saved from demolition in 1928 and opened as a museum. It was owned by the American Legion from 1938 to 1962, then purchased by the state and Richland County. In 1969, the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now owned by Richland County and managed by Historic Columbia.
Hugh Weathers, S.C. commissioner of agriculture and a third generation dairy farmer from Bowman, praised the partnership, saying it would help improve the quality of life in the state. He noted that even though less than two percent of S.C.’s workers are farmers, 25% of our economy is based on agriculture.
Steve Morrison, president of the HFC board and a lawyer with Nelson Mullins, said the $1.5 million restoration of the Tuscan villa style home is a partnership of HFC, AgFirst, Richland County, and the Bostic Trust.
When completed, the public will once again be able to see the bed where Little Tommy Wilson was born on December 28, 1856.