Not quite thirty years after the original settlers came to Fairhope, Alabama, the Fairhope Chamber of Commerce was formed. On June 6, 1924, the Fairhope Chamber of Commerce was organized and as a group addressed a number of aggressive issues concerning the development of the area. This Chamber became actively involved in addressing the concerns of city sewer systems, beautification and most importantly at the time, the addition of a bridge connecting Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
The first meeting of the Fairhope Chamber of Commerce was held on June 6, 1924 with approximately 30 people attending. William McIntosh was elected President, with Dr. V. McR. Schowalter as First Vice President, J.E. Gaston as 2nd Vice President and R.F. Powell serving as 3rd Vice President. Trustees named were E.B. Gaston, C.C. Baldwin and H.P. Kemper, with George Martin named Treasurer and O.K. Cummings named Secretary.
Annual dues were set at $5.00 and their first project was to organize the Fourth of July Celebration, which had been held the previous year through an organization called the Fairhope Civic Club, which did not last the year.
Aggressively involved in city and county matters, the Chamber remained active in the community, strengthening from an early 30-40 members, to over 100 members in 1943. As World War I was in full activity, it was decided by the members in 1941 to go inactive as they each made their contribution to the war effort. For the next three years, then Volunteer President, Kirby Wharton, among other officers and members of the board participated in the war movement in chairing war bond sales during the height of the war, in addition to heading up the County Economic Development and Post War Planning committees.
The chamber's fiscal year moved slightly between July 1, January 1 and October 1 throughout the 70 year history, but the most significant change came in 1952 when the board voted to change their name to the Fairhope and Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. Eastern Shore Business Leaders took the brave step of forming the future. They realized that by joining together, as a region, they could partner with and support our local elected officials in accomplishing greater goals.
The Chamber of Commerce celebrated its first "Arts and Crafts Tour" in 1953 and it has continued ever since, now calling the celebration the "Arts and Crafts Festival".
In 1954, the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce committed to three major projects for the fiscal year, One was to build a modern hospital for Fairhope and the surrounding communities. This became Thomas Hospital.
In 1957 the chamber was instrumental in laying the groundwork for a greatly improved highway from Spanish Fort to Fairhope with the hope that it might be a four-lane. This effort began under the leadership of Cecil Pitman and this project continued through the sixties. The Fairhope and Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce was incorporated as such on April 21, 1959 with John Duck signing incorporation papers as its President. An amendment was filed on February 1, 1977 changing the corporation to The Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce with Dale Crittenden serving as President.
1979 and 1980 Bobbie Thomas became the first woman president of the chamber. She was the only active volunteer woman president in the state of Alabama at that time. During her tenure she established an active alliance with the Service Corps of Retired Executives; she oversaw the startup of a feasibility study of hiring a paid manager for the chamber; Thomas also signed the resolution endorsing a full-time Baldwin County Commission and the creation of a single office for county revenue. The first paid Executive Director was John Nelson who served part time.
In 1988, the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce was donated a building in downtown Fairhope. The Carl L. Bloxham building, named after the Chamber President serving from 1938-1940, became the official home of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. The building was donated by Guy Busby in memory of his wife Emily Bagley, and her daughter, Worth. The building, while not occupied from May 1988 to May 1989, was extensively renovated during the presidency of Taney Brazeal. After which, the Chamber office returned to its "new" home at 327 Fairhope Avenue
In 1992, the board of directors voted to change the title of the top paid employee from Executive Vice President to "President", and the top elected volunteer to "Chairman of the Board of Directors". Committees were reorganized under three Vice-Chairmen representing the areas of Administration, Community Events and Economic Development. Kolleen Crandall served as President for 7 years.
In 1996 the chamber invested in professional membership software, launched it’s first website at www.eschamber.com.
Under the leadership of Owen Bailey and Ronnie Pippin, it was decided to work towards accreditation. In 1997, with the guidance of President/CEO Darrelyn Bender, the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce became an Accredited Chamber of Commerce through the US Chamber of Commerce for the first time. Fast forward to 1999 when the Chamber celebrated their 75th year anniversary with a GRAND celebration at the Grand Hotel. January 1999 was also the year that the Scenic Overlook, located off of Hwy 90 and I-10, was opened as the second office of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. The board room was dedicated to the memory of a great chamber member Maxwell Killoch, and the Chamber expanded it’s representation to both ends of the Eastern Shore, thanks to the hard work of the board led by Chairman of the Board Tom Byrne and long time friend Walter Penry who served as our state legislator for 24 years. Serving as a welcome center, it touches those who stop by with Southern Hospitality and an education about the Eastern Shore.
In 2002, Beverley Allen stepped into the position of Chairman of the Board, the second woman to hold the position. That was also the year the Eastern Shore Chamber formed a Community based foundation – the Eastern Shore Chamber Foundation. This Foundation was formed to enhance the Chamber’s ability to raise money for projects. This allows the chamber to attract foundation money for the following diverse interests: The advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding of economics, matters of public concern, finance, education and training, housing, human relations, problems of minority groups, science and technology, agriculture, economic planning and development, international relations and other subjects related to improved efficiency, development and acceleration of both the quality and quantity of economic growth and employment opportunities, especially as these topics pertain to the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay and Baldwin County.
To have power to cooperate with any programs, either abroad, the United States of America, the State of Alabama or any of their agencies, or any other organizations or governmental unit, to promote trade, commerce, industry, residence and international and domestic relations in and about Eastern Shore and Baldwin County.
The formation of our Foundation has enabled the Chamber to grow our Workforce Development efforts to include the 9 month High School Youth Leadership Program, The 7th grade Choices program in 0ver 32 classrooms teaching youth about how the choices they make can impact their future. In 2011 STEP was created with the help of Eastern Shore High School counselors and the Baldwin County Board of Education at the table. This is an aggressive 4 year program touching at risk students and educating them on why to stay in High School, what is available to them job wise within the area, introducing them to leaders from businesses locally opening them up to Internships at graduation. These students form their own networking group, learn leadership skills and gain confidence for the future.
The Chamber went through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Re-accreditation process in 2003 with Will Layfield as Chairman of the Board and became one of twenty-two chambers of commerce in the nation to receive a three-star accreditation, and then again in 2008 under the leadership of Chairman of the Board Joe Bullock. There are only 222 accredited chambers of commerce out of 7,000 in the United States. That was also the year the President Darrelyn Bender assumed the role of Chairman of the Board for the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama. This is the first time an Eastern Shore Chamber staff person has taken the command of a state organization.
In 2006, under Chairman of the Board Ray Moore, the Chamber reorganized its operations utilizing the Blueprint for Tomorrow, a five-year strategic plan funded by the business community and government entities. The plan addresses more than 50 specific initiatives in the areas of economic development, tourism, governmental affairs, education, transportation and the environment. Blueprint For a BETTER Tomorrow follows on the footsteps of that first Blueprint plan under the volunteer leadership of David Clark and Tim Rosson.
With many successes, two main studies stand out. One was an Eastern Shore Transportation Study in 2006. This study was in depth and was later incorporated into the Baldwin County Transit Plan. The other study was the 2007 Technology Research Study researching the feasibility of a Technology Park on the Eastern Shore.
In 2012 the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce was one of the first Chambers in Alabama to launch its APP, Eastern Shore, Al., and also launched a separate Tourism website that year. In 2013 the Chamber became the first to have a dedicated Economic Development section in an APP, making it easier for elected officials and business leaders to “Share the Shore” on their phone or I-Pad no matter where they are.
Keeping up with technology has shifted the way that the Chamber does business. December 2013 has the Chamber sporting 11,000 users on the Eastern Shore Al APP, 5,600 Facebook Friends, 3,400 Twitter followers and 1.5 million hits to eschamber.com. In Jan 2014 with the redesign of the website based on the Twitter format, the chamber will once again be the leader in technology and will boost their members SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
2013-2014 and 2014-2015 will be back to back women Chairman of the Boards with Deanna Auner and Contina Woods serving consecutively, representing the third and fourth women Chairman of the Boards in the Chamber history. Contina Woods who has been an active committee chair and board member for many years is also the first African American Chairman of the Board. She will take over the leadership roll June 2014 to start off the 90th year of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce.