Sheridan County Chamber celebrating 100 years
The Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 100th anniversary and we’d like to share just a few of the milestones and contributions over all of those years. As you take this trip with us, though, remember that the Chamber’s history and its future is really all of us — the businesses, organizations and individuals who care about the promotion and prosperity of the Sheridan community.
The “Sheridan Commercial Club” was incorporated on March 20, 1913. In the early years, the group at different times called itself both the “Sheridan Commercial Club” and the “Sheridan Chamber of Commerce,” but by all accounts this was a continuing group of business leaders gathering to further Sheridan business relationships and growth. According to the club’s constitution, membership was open to “any citizen of Sheridan County of reputable character,” for a dues payment of $1.
But we can step back even further in time. In our search for Chamber history, we found that a group actually existed at least as far back as 1895, when the Sheridan Commercial Club was originally organized (with 83 members, all men, including C. H. Grinnell and O. H. Wallop). In that first year, one of the topics of discussion was problems with the mail route over the mountains. By 1902, the club was drafting its bylaws and electing officers, with the clear statement that the club’s objective was “to make the club thoroughly a business organization rather than a social one” (there was a separate Business Men’s Club at the same time, for social purposes). They only had 27 members in 1902, but that included leaders such as J.D. Loucks and J.B. Kendrick.
In 1904 the club took it upon itself to raise $900 to buy a site for a state hospital (Wyoming General Hospital) to be erected in Sheridan. In 1906, the “Sheridan Chamber of Commerce” (same organization) arranged with Burlington Railroad to provide publicity about Sheridan County, for distribution at the train’s stopovers on the East Coast.
A magazine ad sponsored by the Chamber in 1910 identified Sheridan as “Wyoming’s Most Progressive Twentieth Century Metropolis.” And we were taking care of our visiting dignitaries — it was front page news for several days in 1912 that Gen. Leonard Wood (U.S. Army Chief of Staff) was visiting and that “George W. Perry, president of the chamber of commerce,” was taking him grouse hunting.
In 1912, the organization published an impressive promotional magazine, Sheridan and the Sheridan Country — “a pen and picture description of a wonderfully fertile section with great and varied natural resources.” (The magazine was reprinted in 1998, courtesy of Dave Sorenson of Jackson Electric and Bill Rawlings of ERA Carroll Realty. Copies are still available at the Chamber office.) Among other things, that magazine listed the businesses in Sheridan at the time — including the Palace Café and Sheridan Commercial Co. that still exist today.
The Sheridan Commercial Club was officially incorporated on March 20, 1913. Subsequent records and milestone anniversary celebrations refer to that date as the beginning of today’s Chamber of Commerce and we today continue that tradition.
In 1913, the president was George W. Perry and other officers were L.H. Brooks, J.D. Thorn, and L. F. Hurd. And we can’t resist noting that Carroll Realty, founded by current Chamber executive director Dixie Johnson’s grandfather George Carroll, is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. He surely was a member of the Sheridan Commercial Club as well.
Jumping ahead to the 1930s (at which point the group was called the Sheridan Chamber of Commerce on a consistent basis), a 1934 newspaper article touted the recent accomplishments of the Chamber, which included staging a buffalo hunt for the Crow Indians that was filmed for a movie; successfully defending a 20 percent reduction in the freight rates of freight coming into Sheridan; instituting a program that fed 22,000 lambs in the Sheridan area; continued activities for air mail and the improvement of the airport; and securing Wyoming and South Dakota approval to extend U.S. Highway 14 from Rapid City to Yellowstone, through Sheridan.
By 1934, the Chamber also had its own downtown office — “one of the most up-to-date and attractive offices in the northwest” — in the basement of the Bank of Commerce (now First Interstate Bank). “Big game trophies from the Big Horn mountains decorated the walls …” The Chamber particularly used this office, still remembered by many today, to provide tourist bureau services to visiting motorists.
During this decade, the organization was re-incorporated as the Sheridan Chamber of Commerce and was showing its members to be businesses rather than individuals. Moving forward, the RoundUp Club (16 individuals) was started in 1956 — the forerunner of our current Ambassadors committee.
Of the 308 members in the Chamber 50 years ago, 39 are still in business and Chamber members today – Arrowhead Resort, Bank of Commerce (now First Interstate Bank), Bear Lodge Resort, Big Horn Airways, Big Horn Beverage, Brittain Travel Agency, Carroll Realty, Carroll’s Furniture, Champion Funeral Home, Cloud Peak Lanes, CocaCola Bottling, Connie’s Glass Shop, Eaton’s Ranch, Equitable Life Assurance Society, Farmers Co-op, First Federal Savings & Loan, Fletcher Construction, Ed Hammer, Inc., Holly Sugar, Hospital Pharmacy, J.C. Penney Co., KROE (now Sheridan Media), Metz Beverage, Mike’s Electric, Montana-Dakota Utilities, Mullinax, Post Office News Stand (now P.O. News), Quick Printing, Safeway Stores, Sears, Sheridan Commercial, Sheridan County Airport, The Sheridan Press, Sheridan Stationery, Sheridan Tent & Awning, Sundown Motel (now Rodeway Inn), Valley Motor, Wilcox Abstract Co., and the WYO Theater.
The Chamber office continued downtown for 37 years, from 1934 to 1971. Then in 1971, the “Tourist Information Center” was built “on a hill overlooking the Fifth Street interchange on Interstate 90,” touted as “a cultural success, a commercial success, and a financial success” … and the Chamber moved into its new home. (We are still in that Information Center today, along with Sheridan Travel & Tourism and seasonal Wyoming Office of Tourism staff.)
Many new Chamber programs were added in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, some of which are very alive and well even today. We mentioned earlier that the forerunner of the Ambassadors group started in 1956. In 1971, we had 14 regular volunteer committees, including convention and visitors, military, sports and attractions, agriculture, aviation (headed by John Patton), to name a few. The Chamber was busy, with a lot of active participation and by then up to 415 members).
Fast forwarding again. The Leadership Sheridan County program started in 1993, with the first graduating class in 1994. Our Historic Downtown Retail Committee started the annual Christmas Stroll event in 1996. But even as early as 1970, 26 years earlier, the Chamber was hosting “Christmas opening festivities” on Main Street to ring in the holiday season.
In the 2000s, we introduced the regular monthly luncheons and “business after hours” events, the annual Legislative Forums with state legislators, and the Candidate Forums in election years. Our relatively new Third Thursday Street Festivals, partnering with Downtown Sheridan Association, started in 2009 — hard to believe those street festivals are already entering their fifth season!
Today the Chamber has 570 members, representing over 8,300 business owners and employees in Sheridan County. And we’re still working hard to promote, protect, and help prosper our members and our wonderful community, hand in hand with all of you.
SATURDAY, MARCH 23, 2013 THE SHERIDAN PRESS A5
Editor’s Note: Members of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Staff contributed to this column.
DIXIE JOHNSON is executive director
of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce