Let’s take a look back at when a chamber of commerce was formed in Rim Country, as well as the circumstances that led to its need.
The automobile gradually rose as a form of transportation during the first part of the 20th century. Just as towns had previously competed for railroad lines, now they maneuvered for better roads which they felt would lead to more business opportunities. This clip from the Sept. 3, 1915 Winslow Mail with an excerpt from a Phoenix Chamber of Commerce bulletin shows some of the early angling that was going on.
“Winslow is anxious to have a road built from that point to the Roosevelt dam. The road would go through Payson and it is said would be open the year around. The northern people believe that the co-operation of the Forest Service can be secured, as much of the line of proposed road is within the forest reserves. A party from Phoenix will make the trip to look into the possibilities of this route.”
During the 1920s and 1930s, roadway construction in Arizona moved forward. The Harvey G. Bush Highway (a segment of what would eventually be Highway 87) was built with funds from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in the early 1930s. Throughout Arizona, new roads and new highways were built and brought into the Arizona State Highway system. According to Ira A. Murphy in a Payson Centennial publication in 1984, this is what led to the establishment of a chamber of commerce here.
“In 1938 plans were drawn for a north-south highway for Arizona and which called for a road that would parallel the Verde River. This route had been accepted by the state highway commission and had strong support from Flagstaff and Phoenix.
“However, Alf Randall, owner of stage and mail service to Globe and Cottonwood, thought the proposed highway should be farther east and should include Payson in its service area. Harry Goodfellow, owner of Goodfellow’s Natural Bridge (now Tonto), L.E. Boardman, W.O. Haley, W.D. Boardman, Grady Harrison, James Deming, and other Payson support decided to press for a change in the routing of the planned north-south highway. Alf, a native of Pine, contacted the few leaders in Pine and got support for his proposal. Several meetings were held to promote the Randall plan. Meetings in Pine, Payson and Gisela were arranged. In order to provide a permanent body to foster the new highway, the group decided a chamber of commerce would be most beneficial.”
According to Murphy the chamber was originally called the Northern Gila County Chamber of Commerce before changing its name to the Payson Chamber of Commerce in 1945. He credits this group for ultimately getting the highway built that is known today as Highway 87, or the Beeline Highway. On January 8, 1952 he reports that the constitution of the Payson Chamber of Commerce was drawn and it was incorporated on April 17, 1953.
Murphy’s story seems to check out. There was a clearly a Northern Gila County Chamber of Commerce in existence in 1939 — a May 25, 1939 Arizona Republic ad for the Payson area references this group. Advertisement mentions of a chamber of commerce in the area seem to disappear during the war years, but a Dec. 23, 1946 Arizona Republic article references the Payson Chamber of Commerce. His story seems correct, and from 1938 forward, it probably is. But a mention in the June 18, 1920 Coconino Sun changes things a little bit.
“Payson has organized a chamber of commerce.”
Another article later that summer in the Coconino Sun also references the Payson Chamber of Commerce. What happened between 1920 and 1938 is unknown at present time. A Payson advertisement in the July 7, 1935 Arizona Republic makes no mention of a chamber, while listing businesses such as Boardman Bros., Log Cabin Inn and Payson Garage. This earlier mention doesn’t invalidate what Murphy wrote, but simply provides an opening for further research. It’s logical to say that today’s chamber of commerce was founded in 1938, but it is plausible that it could be even older than that.