Emory Wishon III stands at the corner of Olive and Wishon avenues, underneath the street sign named for his great-grandfather A.G. Wishon, who helped bring hydroelectric power to the Central Valley. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz

published on March 11, 2020 - 1:38 PM
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The San Joaquin Light and Power Tower looms over Tuolumne Street and overlooks the Fulton District of Downtown Fresno, where it’s been since 1924. A few miles from there, a street cuts through a swath of south Fresno that includes the Tower District and the neighborhood adjacent to Fresno City College.

They’re contributions by, and tributes to, Albert Graves (A.G.) Wishon, who arrived in Tulare in the 1890s, and would steadily make a name for himself by showcasing the potential for electricity in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Albert Graves Wishon belonged to that fast disappearing race of adventurous pioneers who built America to its greatness,” said his 1936 obituary in The Fresno Republican. “Essentially, he was a builder; a dreamer of dreams and an untiring worker to bring his dreams to reality.”

Born in Missouri in 1858, he arrived by train, coming from Spokane, Washington to go into business, later having his wife and children come down to join him in the Central Valley. He held a series of jobs during the decade, but saw the potential to make his mark in the burgeoning hydroelectric industry.

“He began in insurance and bookkeeping, and in real estate, just as a person looking for work,” said A. Emory Wishon III, A.G.’s great-grandson and a Fresno attorney. “He began to recognize that hydroelectric power was possible.”

Back East, Wishon had studied engineering, though he never finished a degree. However, his knowledge in the subject proved sufficient enough for him to direct the Mt. Whitney Power Co. based in Visalia. According to documents obtained from the historical archives at the Fresno County Library, he extended lines into every section of Tulare County south of Kaweah and was instrumental in bringing electricity to the region.

“In an orange grove at Lindsay, he proved the efficiency of pump motors for pump irrigation from deep wells, an innovation that launched the electrification of San Joaquin Valley farms,” the obituary reads. “Where 2 million acres today are intensively cultivated with the aid of power-driven irrigation pumps.”

Unfortunately, Emory said his great-grandfather’s investors voted him out, with the obituary placing his year of departure at 1903. He made his way to Fresno, determined to prove his detractors wrong.

He got his chance in Fresno, taking water rights he still had on the Tule River and looked for people who were developing hydroelectric power. He found investors in Los Angeles, looking to use electricity to power the trolleys. Having just bought the rights to the San Joaquin Power Co., the investors put A.G. Wishon in charge of the bankrupt business. It then became the San Joaquin Light and Power Corp.

His work put him in direct competition with the gas company of local tycoon Fulton J. Berry. However, he was able to build up the company from a single powerhouse to roughly 30 from Merced to Bakersfield and the coast.

PG&E eventually took over the company’s function, but the San Joaquin Light & Power Tower — one of Fresno’s oldest skyscrapers — remains standing to this day, as does the house he built at the turn of the 20th century on Huntington Boulevard near the avenue that bears his name. Also on the avenue sits the Tower Theatre, which opened in 1939 with the help of A. Emory Wishon I — A.G.’s son and A. Emory III’s grandfather.

It’s a point of pride not only to A. Emory, but also for the whole family.

“We all are proud of that relationship,” he said. “In fact, we walk Huntington Boulevard every Christmas as our family’s in town.

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