Eight decades ago this month, 29 Wright City citizens and business owners gathered for the first time to combine their efforts for the collective benefit of their community.
This July marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Wright City Chamber of Commerce, which was chartered in 1939. Chamber leaders plan to celebrate the milestone with a gathering July 23 at 5 p.m. in Diekroeger Park.
Wright City, along with the rest of America, was a very different place in 1939. It was at the tail end of the Great Depression. U.S. Highway 40 was the highway running through town, as Interstate 70 wouldn’t be built on top of it for another two decades. A little over 400 people lived in Wright City proper.
The names of many founding businesses of the Wright City Chamber aren’t recognizable to newer residents. Most have stopped operating, or have changed names and have no connection to their original ownership.
But despite a lifetime of change in Wright City, longtime Chamber member Karen Girondo, the research historian for this month’s commemorations, said the core mission of the Chamber hasn’t changed all that much.
“(The founding members) just wanted to do something to grow the city, to promote the businesses,” and to attract people traveling along Highway 40, Girondo said. “Basically a lot of the same reasons we continue the Chamber today.”
The Wright City Chamber still possesses historical records of what was important to its early membership, the leading community members of the day. Girondo said the projects launched in the first year of the Chamber included hot lunches for needy school kids, industrial projects, “Welcome to Wright City” signs for Highway 40, a fall harvest festival, and planning for a dance platform that became the pavilion at Diekroeger Park.
Many similar programs have been propelled by the Chamber in recent years as well, from an updated welcome sign to the Chamber’s recent summer carnival. Considering how different other parts of commerce and daily life are, the resemblance to the Chamber of 80 years ago is somewhat striking.
“It’s still that small-town feel. We care about the people who live here, and the kids and the community. What they were doing back then is so similar to what we do today because of that,” Girondo commented.
Chamber President Kim Arbuthnot said the story of the Chamber in recent years has been one of growth, adding new membership as industries have come to Warren County. Today there are about 85 members, including those from surrounding Warren County and St. Charles County businesses.
Arbuthnot said current and former members of the Chamber are welcome to come to the celebration July 23 for food and drinks, socializing, and a commemoration of the Chamber’s history.
But along with looking to the past, leaders of the Chamber are also planning for what its future will be, and defining its mission for the coming years. The recent business focus of the Chamber has been helping industrial businesses connect with potential employees, Arbuthnot said. That will continue as more employers come to the area, many of which will join the Chamber.
“I certainly think that the Wright City Area Chamber of Commerce will be much larger. I see it doubling in size as these industries come in,” Arbuthnot commented. “I see so much potential in this area.”