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Chamber marks 100 years of building Hall

POSTED: February 7, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Gainesville wasn’t exactly a boom town in 1908.

The railroad stopped here, but paved roads were a thing of the future. It was a horse-and-buggy town, but that was soon to change when in Detroit an entrepreneur named Henry Ford began producing the Model T.

It was also the year that a group of Gainesville businessmen got together and formed the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce.

For a tidy sum of $6, a business could become a member of the new chamber. But the idea didn’t exactly catch on like wildfire. In fact, it didn’t get off the ground until the chamber reorganized three years later and dropped the annual dues to $3.

For 100 years, what is now the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce has been a part of the community. Through its economic development efforts, the chamber has brought billions of dollars in new industry to the region.

Some of it remains here, other business enterprises have seen their time come and go.

This year, the chamber is having a year-long celebration of its founding. The highlight of the year is a lavish gala that will take place May 2. Planning for the event, being billed as the "Party of the Century," still is underway.

"We are really excited about being 100 years old," said Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. "We want to celebrate, but we want to leave a legacy for this community."

Dunlap gives credit to the business executives who came together to form the organization in 1908.

"I doubt they would recognize Gainesville today, but they planted the seed with business and government working together to make this community what it is today. That leadership is still here," she said.

The chamber has celebrated many milestones of the community during its century.

In 1918, the chamber marked the 100th anniversary of Hall County and welcomed home veterans of World War I.

In 1931, the chamber sponsored a motorcade to Franklin, N.C., to celebrate the opening of a paved highway through Cornelia, Clarkesville and Clayton into North Carolina. The next year, it held another motorcade to mark the opening of a paved road to Dawsonville, Tate, Jasper and beyond.

Years later, the organization lobbied hard to get state leaders to route Interstate 85 through Gainesville. That was thwarted when Gov. Ernest Vandiver steered the road closer to his hometown of Lavonia.

The chamber did not have its first female president until 1989 when real estate executive Joanne Bagwell held the top post. However, chamber records show the first meeting at which women were present took place on April 15, 1920.

One of the chamber’s most significant accomplishments in its history came in 1927 when it landed Johnson & Johnson’s $3 million model mill village that later would become known as Chicopee Village.

It was not until after World War II that the chamber became a full-time organization. In the post-war boom, Charles Thurmond served as president and Ed Jared as general manager of the chamber.

In 1967, the chamber built its first building on the site at the current location at the intersection of Green Street and what is now E.E. Butler Parkway. The organization became known as the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber name has changed over the years from Gainesville Chamber of Commerce to Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce to Gainesville-Hall Chamber of Commerce and now Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Dunlap, who has was named president of the chamber in 1997, gives much credit to the leaders along the way who made their mark on the community.

Today, Denise Deal, one of the leaders of the Vision 2030 planning process conducted two years ago, is chairwoman of the chamber’s board of directors.

"The organization has been strong because this is a community that concentrates on making sure that business sustains itself and that contributes to having a good quality of life," Deal said.


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