Sunday, May 10, 2015

Alvinza Baxter Cole (1848-1924)

Portrait from the History of Otter Tail County, 1916.

    At the turn of the 19th century there were few persons more prominent in Otter Tail County, Minnesota than Dr. Alvinza Baxter Cole, a transplant to that state from St. Lawrence County, New York. A practicing physician and surgeon in the city of Fergus Falls for over three decades, Cole experienced remarkable success in both medicine and politics, being a multi-term mayor of Fergus Falls, a two term state senator, and two years prior to his death was elected to the Minnesota State House of Representatives, dying before the completion of his term. 
   A native of New York state, Alvinza B. Cole was born in Canton on December 30, 1848, a son of Oltas and Alvira Johnson Cole. Proving that odd names would continue in the family, Oltas bestowed the names "Alvinza Baxter" upon his son, the origins of which have been lost to history. Young Alvinza was reared upon a farm in Canton and would attend the Canton Academy. Following his graduation in 1868 he decided upon a career in medicine and commenced study under local physician Dr. Sanford HoagCole continued study at the New York Homeopathic College, from which he graduated in 1879. Upon his return to Canton he purchased the practice of Dr. Hoag and would remain here until 1881, when he removed to Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Prior to his removal to Minnesota Cole had married to Effie Westcott (1857-1913) and would later adopt four children: Carl V., Claude, Herbert Phelon (1880-1935) and Ester.
   For the next three decades Alvinza Cole practiced medicine in Fergus Falls and in addition to his profession managed success in the political life of his adopted state. In April 1891 Cole won election as Mayor of Fergus Falls (defeating Alex Van Praag by a "222 majority") and was returned to that office the following year. Cole left the mayor's office in 1893 and in the next year became a candidate for the Minnesota State Senate. Hoping to represent the state's 48th senatorial district (comprising Otter Tail County), Cole ran as a Republican and in November of that year defeated the People's Party candidate Herman L. Burgess by a vote of 2,705 to 2, 480.

Alvinza B. Cole, from the St. Paul Daily Globe, December 19, 1894.

   During his freshman senate term Dr. Cole's chief interest was in "securing an appropriation for improvements" to the insane asylum in his district and also favored a bill for the direct election of U.S. Senators. His term concluded in 1899 and four years later won a second four-year term in the senate, besting Democratic nominee M.J. Daly by a vote of 2,818 to 2,495. During this term Cole chaired the committees on Election and Temperance as well as serving on the committees on Drainage, Education, Hospitals for the Insane, Military Affairs, Printing, Railroads and the State Training School.
   As Cole's second term drew to a close he experienced further political distinction when he was chosen to serve as Chairman of the Minnesota Republican State Committee. In that year Cole's younger brother, Albert L. Cole (1857-1908), became the Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota. During that year's gubernatorial contest Alvinza Cole hit the campaign trail for his brother, visiting Bemidji, Minnesota in May 1906 to try and elicit support from that city's political and business elite. Despite his best efforts Cole and the Republicans failed to wrest the gubernatorial chair from the Democrats, as incumbent Governor John Albert Johnson defeated Albert Cole by a wide margin, 168,480 votes to 96, 162.

Alvinza Cole, from the Minnesota Journal, July 1, 1906.

   Following his brother's gubernatorial loss Alvinza Cole continued in public service, serving two further terms as Mayor of Fergus Falls from 1914-1916. He retired from the practice of medicine in 1916, having been in practice since the late 1870s. Cole had previously served as President of the Minnesota Homeopathic Institute (from which he had retired in 1905) and had been a surgeon during the Spanish-American War, serving with the Fourteenth Minnesota Regiment.
   Two years prior to his death Cole won a seat in the Minnesota State House of Representatives, representing the 50th district. During this term Cole chaired the committee on Public Health and Hospitals and also held seats on the committees on the Board of Control and State Institutions, Labor, Public Utilities, State Parks and the University and State Schools. Dr. Alvinza Baxter Cole died a few months before the completion of his term on June 8, 1924 at age 75. Widowed in 1913, Cole and his wife Effie were both interred at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Fergus Falls.

Alvinza Cole as he appeared in the 1915 "Men of Minnesota."

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