Suwannee County has a long history of commerce, from the earliest American settlers to today. In 1824, Ruben (Reuben) Charles established a ferry, inn and trading post at what is now Charles Springs, the first known American commercial presence in Suwannee County. The first 80 years of American settlement in Suwannee County was first one of pioneers, followed by the Civil War and Reconstruction, and finally by a boom in population and businesses as railroads, timber companies, and many other related activities opened Suwannee County to the masses.
Among the organizations that benefited from Suwannee County’s growth in the early 1900s (when Live Oak was the fifth-largest city in Florida) was the Live Oak Board of Trade, which had been established in or before 1908. A precursor to the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade encouraged further business development in Live Oak and Suwannee County by publishing a detailed brochure showing the many commercial, residential and natural gems of the City and County. In 1908, the president of the Board of Trade was R. E. McNeill, with W. L. Tedder and J. Walter Blume as vice-presidents and W. A. Edwards as the secretary. Although successful with the brochure, the Board of Trade was eventually renamed or replaced by a Chamber of Commerce, which carried out similar duties.
This newly-established Chamber of Commerce held its second annual meeting in April 1914, suggesting an establishment date of 1913. At that 1914 meeting, L. S. Harvard was elected president; J. D. Radford as 1st vice-president; A. P. Mickler as 2nd vice president; and W. E. Quarterman as secretary. The 25 directors covered the entire spectrum of businessmen in the Live Oak area. It is likely the onset of World War I in 1914, with America’s entry in 1917, caused many of the men who had been instrumental in the Board of Trade/Chamber of Commerce to go overseas or otherwise serve their country, and the Chamber ceased to function as an active organization.
By 1919, World War I had ended and those who had served were now home, returning to their lives. The Chamber of Commerce existed in name only at the time, and a new membership campaign was begun. Within a month, the Chamber recognized 225 members as a result of the campaign, with dues of $1 per month for those residing in the City of Live Oak and $0.25 for those residing outside of the city limits. The following year, the Chamber published a booklet showing attractions, opportunities and resources in Suwannee County. Among the items mentioned was that Suwannee County had produced more pecans than any other county in Florida. In 1922, the Chamber of Commerce moved its offices from Ohio Avenue into the Alimar Theatre on Howard Street. However, due to a variety of reasons, the Chamber of Commerce eventually disbanded.
In April 1930, the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce was organized at the Suwannee County Courthouse, after sponsorship by the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs of Live Oak and with the leadership of Howell Dale and Sheriff W. H. Lyle. The principal activity of the body was to “ensue through a farm bureau division devoted wholely (sic) and energetically to the development of all lines of agriculture approved for the county.” J. D. Henry was named president, C. J. Hackney was vice-president and C. H. Tedder was secretary. Three committees were named: one for membership composed of D. W. Henry, J. H. Hildreth and Carl Allison; another for finance under Fred Green, W. L. Tedder (who had served on the original Board of Trade) and B. W. Helvenston, Jr.; and the last for publicity under J. D. Henry, C. H. Tedder and C. P. Helfenstein. The Chamber began strong, with the membership committee “already busily engaged” signing up members. In 1936, the Chamber boasted of holding one of their most profitable meetings ever in Branford. However, this iteration of the Chamber of Commerce appears to have also disbanded; it is possible that the great number of men who went off to serve the country and rationing brought about during World War II had something to do with it.
More on the Chamber of Commerce next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-362-0564.