The History of the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce

Last Wednesday Debbie Steffes with the Morris Area Public Library presented on the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce’s history in honor of our 70th Anniversary. Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate with us! Below is a timeline of the events that led us to the present day Chamber. Thank you to all of our members past and present!

Revolution was a department store where the current Eagle’s Hall location is.

January 17, 1907 – A group of Morris businessmen met in the firemen’s room of the old City Hall building on Wauponsee Street to organize the Retail Merchant’s Improvement Association. The Merchant’s Improvement Association started with 60 members.

1922– Fred Stephens was president of the chamber. Donations were made to the chamber to pay for uniforms for the High School band.

William Sparr Shoe Store where the Front Porch is now.

1927– The chamber leased the new Fessler Building at 406 Liberty St., where the TNT Dance Studio is. The chamber at this time was still holding their annual meetings in the Masonic Temple, now called the Cornerstone Apartment Building. Art Hornsby, Sr., Walter Penn and Ed Maloney were elected to the Board of Directors.

1928– The chamber was working on getting a county road bond passed so that various communities in Grundy would be linked by passable roads that you could travel year round. That year membership leaped from 89 to 265 thanks to a huge membership drive with six teams of workers competing against each other.

November 5, 1929– There was a drive to raise funds for an airport. The goal was to raise $3,500 for a land field because Morris needed a municipal airport. By November 5th the Chamber of Commerce had succeeded in getting a 66 acre tract from George Blair on Union Street to put up a beacon light to guide the “aviators”. Now Morris was a location on the Chicago to St. Louis air mail route.

Ed Maloney’s Store on Liberty Street

June of 1930– The chamber conducted another fundraising drive to raise $2,000 to get Route 47 completed up to Lisbon.

1933– The chamber was working on getting a city loading dock built between Franklin and Division Street on the north side of the river. They also had signs put up on Route 47 west of Morris to prevent traffic from being diverted away from Morris to points north and east.

1947– After the war, the Morris Businessmen’s Association was incorporated as the Morris Chamber of Commerce. Also during this time, the chamber was working to keep Self Locking in Morris and purchase a building site.

1955– Morris had become the “Community of Opportunity”. During this time there were over 100 active members in the Chamber of Commerce, and now there was a full time secretary. The Morris business district had 200 retail stores and two main highways- U.S. 6 and Rt. 47. The Rock Island Railroad was running both passenger and freight service.

August 1955– The Chamber of Commerce moved to the Baum Building from its previous location at 308 1/2 Liberty- which was above Harrington’s Jewelry

1976– The chamber formed the Parking Committee to provide additional parking to improve retail shopping downtown. That was co-chaired by Jim Baum and Lonnie Booker.

1978– An advisory committee was formed to help Morris High School make its new sports complex available to the general public.

1980– The Grundy County Industrial Development Committee was organized. This was a county wide group to work to retain existing industry and attract new. The Board of Directors was restructured during this time to include 11 people. There was also an Executive Director hired and the Chamber of Commerce worked to draft an Industrial Plan for Grundy County.

There was also a legislative Affairs Committee chaired by Betty Yonka where different county officials gave information about how county government works.

1981– The Home and Trade show was started. A new Governmental Council was formed made up of mayors and village presidents and county board chairmen in order to bring them together to discuss and solve problems.

1997– Kathy Shinneman was director. There were 1,600 listed businesses in Grundy County and 303 of them were Chamber members. Home for the Holidays was co-sponsored by the Chamber. Chamber Gift Certificates were started as well as educational workshops and seminars for members.

2001– The Chamber moved into the Rock Island Depot.

August 2003– Caroline Portlock came on board in August of 2003. She added 61 business members in her first three years.

2006– The Chamber opened its first branch office in Coal City.

2011– The Greater Channahon Minooka Area branch office opened in Minooka.

September 2015– Christina Van Yperen became the Executive Director.