Seeing a need for a local business organization, the citizens of Barnesville bound together in 1910 in an effort to raise money and form a chamber of commerce. An article from the January 9, 1911 edition of the Atlanta Georgian and News reads, “The citizens of Barnesville have raised the money for the support of the Barnesville Chamber of Commerce and expect to secure the services of an experienced secretary who will be in charge of the business of the organization. It has not been definitely decided who the secretary will be, but the board of directors have narrowed that list down to three men, one of whom will likely be contracted with during the next few days. It is believed that this year will show much progress for the city and community as it is proposed to make the new organization an active influence in the promotion of new enterprises.” Though we do not know who all of the candidates were for the secretary position, we do know that a few weeks later William Wakefield of Boston had been selected to serve as the Chamber’s secretary and was paid $1,200 annually for his services.
In April of 1911, a group calling themselves the Barnesville Convention formed in order to create a statewide trade body. The effort was led by Barnesville Chamber Secretary William Wakefield, Mayor T.W. Cochran, J.W. Garland, Emmet Langford, Judge J.L. Lester, H.H. Gray, R.A. Stafford, and C.O. Dummers who saw the need for stronger cooperation between existing state chambers and also the need to promote economic development within the state. Keep in mind, this was several years before the formation of Lamar County.
On three separate occasions, delegates propositioned for Lamar County to be formed with Barnesville serving as the county seat, however all three times the delegates were rejected. We can surmise that the Barnesville Convention likely played a role in helping to establish Lamar County in 1920. The Barnesville Convention set off in April 1911 to tour the state, visiting both large and small communities, elected officials, and business leaders in an attempt to drum up support in organizing a statewide trade body. Seeing that this would be a great way to promote their automobiles, the Convention was given a Primo car by Atlanta Primo Automotive to use on their tour. Barnesville was at a crossroads in manufacturing and this posed an interesting position for the city. Despite automobiles being popularized by mass market consumption in 1908, Barnesville was coming off the high of being the “Buggy Capital of the South” and many people in the area still could not afford to purchase an automobile. This tour was one of the first “official” tours in an automobile and as such, cars driving long distances received just as much press ink as the effort did. Over the course of the year, the Convention visited nearly 50 cities in Georgia before heading off to Columbia, South Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, Richmond, Virginia, and New York City in a Packard 30, 7 seater automobile. Packard saw how successful the campaign was with Primo and wanted to follow suit. From there, the Convention took a train to Washington D.C. to meet with President Taft and brief him on their effort to which President Taft was deeply interested in their effort. On July 19, 1911 the Convention held a meeting of over 2,500 delegates in Barnesville to discuss the plans for the formation of the statewide trade body, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. The meeting included Georgia Governor Hoke Smith, Virginia Governor William Mann, and representatives from the New York Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was held in October 1911 in Macon where it was decided to house the temporary headquarters there.
The following priorities were set forth:
1. Boost good roads: Helped lobby for the creation of the Department of Transportation
2. Support local chambers and found new ones: Led to the creation of the Georgia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (GACCE) and numerous local chambers
3. Market Georgia and encourage agriculture and manufacturing: Led to the creation of a 1916 guide, a thick book in the shape of the state of Georgia (only two known to still exist), that was mailed to women’s groups throughout the state. The goal was for them to take the guides and mail them to their friends and families that lived in other states in order to promote tourism.
4. Keep Georgia money in Georgia
5. Lobby for business: The Georgia Chamber of Commerce grew slowly for several years until it was finally incorporated in Macon in 1915. The same year, the Georgia Manufacturers Alliance was incorporated in Atlanta.