The citizens and business owners of Barnesville needed an organization. They needed a group where they could come together and foster the mutual welfare and benefit of each other’s good and services. In 1910, long before a Lamar County would even exist, an effort to raise money and form a chamber of commerce began.
Later, on January 9, 2011, an article from the Atlanta Georgian and News reported that, “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.” William Wakefield of Boston would be selected to serve as the organization’s first secretary and would be paid $1,200 annually for his services. The Barnesville-Lamar County Chamber of Commerce would not be officially incorporated for another forty-eight years.
In April of 1911, a group calling themselves the Barnesville Convention formed in order to create a statewide trade body. This 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. These gentlemen saw a need for a more cohesive cooperation between existing state chambers, and also the need to promote economic development within the state. They began to tour the State of Georgia; lobbying communities, elected officials, and business owners in an attempt to garner support for the formation of the statewide trade body.
Coming off the high of being the “Buggy Capital of the South”, and in an economic slump with the advent of the automobile, Barnesville was given a Primo car by Atlanta Primo Automotive to use for the state tour. Because this was one of the first cross-state tours of its kind in an automobile, Barnesville, itself, attracted just as much press ink as their statewide efforts to form a state chamber did. After visiting nearly fifty cities, and preparing to take their efforts up the Eastern Seaboard, the Packard Automobile company (having caught wind of the success of Atlanta Primo Automotive’s generosity), donated a 7-seater Packard to the Barnesville Convention for them to continue their journey through the Carolinas in.
Later, after reaching as far north as Virginia and New York, the Barnesville Convention would take a train to Washington D.C. to meet with President William Howard Taft to discuss their gigantic efforts with him in person, and while on this trip, and on behalf of the “Buggy Capital of the South”, the Barnesville Convention presented the President with his very own Jackson C. Smith Buggy.
That summer, on July 19, 1911 the Convention would hold a meeting of over 2,500 delegates in Barnesville, Georgia 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. On February 16, 1915, the Georgia Manufacturer’s Association was formed and located in Macon, later moved to Atlanta, and then finally incorporated as the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in 1992.
Fast-forward forty-eight years to the spring of 1959. Barnesville, Georgia found itself thriving in the mid-century days but still without a definitive organization for businesses to brand, build and promote one another. The chamber of commerce hadn’t fully and functionally taken off. Finally, ten men and one woman began stirring the undercurrents for this “business club” to actually happen: Bill Akins, J. Hubert Adams, Bob Abernathy, Billy Bankston, Arthur Burnette, Joe Deraney, John English, Harold Goodman, Joe Keadle, J. Henry Wisebram, and Mrs. Florence Zellner.
These eleven local business people would lay the groundwork for what would be formally incorporated and become, on July 10, 1959, the Barnesville-Lamar County Chamber of Commerce. This would be fifteen years before its benchmark Buggy Days Festival would begin, and fifty-eight years before the grandson of one of its founding board members would become the President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce itself.