A century ago today, a group of lawyers, bankers, farmers and other businessmen banded together to create the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce.
“An enthusiastic meeting of citizens of Nacogdoches has resulted in the permanent organization of a chamber of commerce,” the Austin American reported on Oct. 20, 1919, in a story datelined Oct. 9.
Today, the chamber will mark its centennial with business as usual.
“We more or less kicked off the celebration with the annual meeting in 2018. We changed our logo, of course, to reflect 100 years strong,” said C. Wayne Mitchell, president and CEO of the local chamber.
Today the chamber is multifaceted organization that assists businesses in a variety of ways by connecting business owners with resources. In 1919, it served some of that purpose but was viewed more as a civic club for businessmen, Mitchell said.
On Oct. 9, 1919, the chamber selected Arthur A. Seale as its first president. Seale was an attorney who was born sometime between 1884 and 1888. He was well connected in the community and was a member of Knights Templar, along with state Rep. William Edgar Thomason.
That got the local chamber involved in politics a lot sooner than many of its sister organizations around the country.
By 1921, Thomason was submitting legislation to the chamber for its endorsement. On June 23, 1921, the chamber passed a resolution supporting a bill overhauling maintenance of state highways.
“In view of the extensive road building program now underway in Texas, it is the judgment of this organization that the question of maintaining our public highways by the road patrol system or plan should be submitted to the forthcoming special session of the legislature,” chamber board chairman Thomas E. Baker wrote to Gov. Pat Neff.
Most chambers didn’t get involved in politics until about 50 years later, Mitchell said.
“Chambers up until the mid ’70s were primarily focused on community events and whatnot. That’s clearly began to change in the mid ‘70s when chambers became involved in advocacy,” Mitchell said. “This chamber clearly reflects those changes. The most recent legislative session there were several times we engaged. That typically wouldn’t have happened back in the ’70s.”
Baker, from Central Heights, was the chamber’s first board chairman. He worked as a banker and was chairman of Commercial National Bank, now Commercial Bank of Texas.
Baker is largely remembered today as the husband of Karle Wilson Baker, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet and early SFA professor.
Within a few weeks of forming, the chamber had about 350 members. Most of them showed up at the county courthouse on Oct. 22, 1919, to hear an address by Garland S. Brickley of the Houston Chamber of Commerce. Today the chamber has about 750 members, Mitchell said, and hundreds show up for banquets and monthly chamber luncheons.
“We still get great participation,” he said.