100 years of business in Nevada City
The Nevada City Chamber of Commerce will soon be cutting a birthday cake and uncorking bottles of champagne to celebrate its centennial.
The chamber was formed April 4, 1902, placing it among the two dozen oldest of California’s 420 chambers.
Nevada City Councilman Steve Cottrell has researched the chamber’s early years and written a 20-page program for the chamber’s installation dinner Jan. 19.
While looking through old newspapers as part of another history project, Cottrell discovered a meeting notice on April 3, 1902, for the establishment of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. A similar organization called the Board of Trade operated as part of the City Council.
On April 4, 1902, the chamber’s first board met in the old City Hall. They approved bylaws and a new organization to replace the Board of Trade – the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.
On April 16, the chamber elected its first officers, executive committee and board. Among the 15 or so board members were William F. Englebright, Bayliss Rector, Elijah Rector, William H. Martin, Hugh Murchie, Samuel Butler and S. Lee Leiter.
Though they broke away from the city government, the chamber’s business leaders still kept a hand in civic affairs.
The early chamber was very political, said Cottrell, playing an active role in town government that would likely cause a stir if undertaken today.
The chamber went beyond the business of promoting Nevada City, pushing for the improvement of streets, sewers and schools. The chamber had not only a promotion committee, but an improvement committee as well.
One of the first actions of the chamber was to spearhead alternate Fourth of July celebrations with Grass Valley beginning in 1902.
The proposal came after years of competition to stage the best celebration, with each town trying to outdo the other in simultaneous July Fourth displays and spending outlandish sums for bands, amusement rides and novelties that added up to a couple thousand dollars each in 1901.
After that expensive year, the towns agreed to pool resources and hold alternate celebrations, an effort helped by the start of Nevada County Traction Co. streetcar service between the two towns.
Early chamber leaders pushed for town improvements, including a $20,000 street repair bond, a school bond that led to the construction of Nevada City High School in the decade beginning in 1910, and the purchase of a rock crusher for street repairs in 1905.
“They were never bashful about going to City Council meetings,” Cottrell said. “They were never bashful about lobbying City Council for something they wanted.”
While lobbying for public works projects, the chamber did not neglect the primary mission of chambers everywhere – promotion of the town.
In 1903, the chamber sent representatives to trade shows in Sacramento and San Francisco.
In 1920, chamber leaders took heed of the growing use of the automobile and built an auto park on Coyote Street behind the present location of the chamber offices. The park had a camping area, showers and outside stoves, much like a modern RV park.
Not long after, they lobbied successfully to change the route of the proposed Ukiah-Tahoe Highway, now known as Highway 20, which would have routed the highway south through Grass Valley to connect with what was Highway 40 through Colfax.
After Nevada City chamber members lobbied state legislators, the state agreed in 1922 to route the highway through Nevada City and Emigrant Gap.
“That was a huge thing to do,” said Cottrell. “They were going to make certain that people in automobiles did not turn south through Grass Valley. They were going to come here.”
The founding of Camp Beale in 1942 – and the dollars that soldiers might spend in town – also did not go unnoticed by chamber members.
The chamber took the lead in the housing of Beale officers, running ads in The Union requesting donations of furniture. Among the items sent to Beale from Nevada City were three pianos for day rooms at the base.
That was very much a business decision, Cottrell said. As World War II grew, Camp Beale grew, and soldiers came to places like Nevada City to spend money.
As the years went by, the town added events to bring people to town: the Tour of Nevada City bicycle race in 1961, Victorian Christmas in 1978, and Summer Nights in 1992.
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