(Written by Robert L. Schaadt, Director-Archivist, Sam Houston Regional Library & Research Center in 1999 – edited and updated).
During the Progressive Era at the turn of the century, one idea that was in vogue was for merchants to organize to improve their business and their community. The spirit of systematized boosterism became quite popular. Liberty area citizens adopted this idea, establishing their Board of Trade on March 14, 1903, the forerunner of the chambers of commerce. As T.J. Chambers reported: “All over Texas…the people…are…fully aroused to the importance of being ‘up and doing’. Now let Liberty show her hand and prove to investors …that they shall be welcomed …and assisted in the establishment of any enterprise…whether a saw mill, stave and box factory, tannery, bank, bakery, laundry – anything that will promote business and add to the public wealth”.
This organization including West Liberty/Dayton evolved into the Liberty Business League, sponsors of the first Liberty County Fair in 1909 on the courthouse square. J.L. Ellis was President and Clarence Chambers was secretary. The merchants of Dayton and Liberty eventually organized their respective Merchants Associations. Focusing primarily on the downtown areas they hired city night watchmen, held special shopping promotions, assisted with credit checks, requested city services for their members such as the installation of parking meters and provided statistics on retail activities. For a number of years, these associations continued to function along with the chambers of commerce, but eventually the organizations merged.
In 1925 the Liberty Chamber of Commerce employed B. Frank Johnson as their first full-time Secretary and used the slogan: “Lovely Liberty: The Friendly City”. The use of the term “chamber of commerce” represented a broader-based membership rather than just merchants, from professionals to interested citizens and a wider list of concerns, from beautification to state and national legislation. The Dayton merchants organized their own chamber about the same time.
These chambers continued to work for community improvements and to entice industry to locate in South Liberty County. They held annual banquets except from 1942 to 1946, recruited new members, sponsored soil conservation and distributed city maps. During World War II the chambers assisted in rent control enforcement, Victory Bond sales, and food conservation. The Liberty Chamber of Commerce sponsored the establishment of Fairlawn Memorial Park, a new twenty-acre cemetery with the slogan “Liberty, Texas: The Heart of the Trinity Valley”. Vernon F. Poole served as the president of the Chamber with Mrs. Mabel Norman as its secretary in the late 1940s when its primary project was to mark all of Liberty’s streets with concrete post street signs, and successfully lobbied for “Free City Mail Delivery to Houses” in 1949. The Dayton Chamber of Commerce, noting the slogan “Dayton, Texas: The Hub of Progress” under the direction of President W.T. Jamison and Secretary Mrs. Charlie Ott in 1949, secured the right of ways for the Rural Electrical Administration Program and for the four- lane Highway 90 Project in conjunction with the city and county governments. Mrs. Ott also took the scholastic census for the Dayton ISD for a number of years.
On March 25, 1977 at the Dayton High School under the banner “United for Progress” the Liberty and Dayton Chambers merged their organizations at the first annual meeting and banquet of the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. C. Scott Parker and Bob Martin served as its first president and vice-president respectfully. By 1984 the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce had the following committees that focused on sixteen areas: Beautification, Business Counseling, Education, Government Impact and Local Government Cooperation, Highway, Industrial Development, Legal Counseling, Membership, Legislative Action, Publications and Information, Retail Business, Tourism and Recreation, Agriculture, Future Planning, Executive and Auditing. The Outstanding Citizen Award, a tradition started by the Liberty Chamber of Commerce in 1964 when it named J.G. Bertman, Jr. as the first recipient, honors a citizen from each city every year. On August 29, 1978 under the direction of Jeep Bell and Ken Rieve the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce began their annual fall event to honor Liberty, Dayton, Devers and Hardin school teachers.
In February 1998 the Chamber moved to their new offices (and present location) at 1801 Trinity Street in Liberty.
This narrative is based on the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce archives and back issues of the Liberty Vindicator and Daytonite located at the Sam Houston Regional Library & Research Center in Liberty.