By Paul Wolter
Sauk County Historical Society
In January of 1951 the state of Wisconsin made the incorporation of the Baraboo Chamber of Commerce official. But the organization’s origins go back much farther.
The Chamber appears to have its roots in the Baraboo Commercial Association, which incorporated on September 15, 1913 and was active for some time before that.
Even before this group started there were other attempts at business clubs, including a Baraboo Business Club, which existed for a short time in the late 1800s followed; by the Ten Thousand Club, which was succeeded by the Baraboo Commercial Association.
The Baraboo Commercial Association advocated for “a Hustling, Rustling, Bustling Baraboo.”
The group boasted that there was more hydroelectric power in the area than any other part of the state. This was due to the two dams at Kilbourn (we call it Wisconsin Dells today) and Prairie du Sac. The active iron ore mine of the area were also touted. Annual dues in the organization were $5.
Promotional material from the group from 1914 proclaimed, “Baraboo’s facilities meet your needs – Abundant water power and hydro electric power, hardwood timber, finest farm land in state, best fruit soil and climate in northwest. Ideal home city, tourists’ paradise. Good public school and churches.”
Around the late 1910s it appears that the Baraboo Commercial Association evolved into the Baraboo Chamber of Commerce.
In the 1920s the Chamber was busy doing many of the same things it does today, including promoting tourism. One Baraboo Chamber giveaway opened up to include a beautiful panorama of Devil’s Lake and proclaim the many recreational activities available in the era. The relatively new Al. Ringling Theatre was also highlighted along with the area’s first water slide.
In 1932 the Chamber operated committees on Finance, Business Promotion, Tourist Advertising, Industry, Solicitation, Public Affairs, Entertainment, Roads and Agriculture
In 1949 the first issue of a “new” Baraboo Chamber of Commerce Bulletin was issued, jam-packed with helpful information on tourism, farming, business, industries and economic and social needs in the community. The Bulletin reminded readers that the Chamber was not a club but a business, a service bureau and a publicity agency. It was two years later that the Baraboo Chamber of Commerce incorporated, with paperwork being filed in December 1950 and certified by the state in January of 1951. Thus began what we could deem the “modern” era of the Chamber.
Baraboo’s circus heritage has always been a big part of the Chamber’s activities, from hosting and promoting events like circus parades to using the circus as a draw for tourists and visitors.
A radio and TV auction was a part of the many fundraising activities the Chamber has implemented over the years. Over the years events have ranged from crab boils to golf outings to raffles to parades.
Throughout the years the actual office of the Chamber has been in a variety of places. It was located downtown at the Civic Center until 1999. Things changed with the construction of the Chief Yellow Thunder Baraboo Area Visitor’s Center. This was a joint project of the-then Baraboo Area Community Foundation (now the Community Foundation of South Central Wisconsin) and the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber remains today as relevant and important as ever, constantly helping our community adjust and adapt to economic forces.
Throughout the years the Chamber has been the Baraboo Area’s biggest cheerleader – loudly proclaiming the benefits of living here, starting a business here and visiting the area with its many layers of historical, cultural and natural attractions.
The Chamber is a voluntary partnership of business and professional people working together to build a healthy economy and to improve the quality of life in our community.
Chamber members are businesses, organizations and individuals concerned with the socioeconomic climate of our community; people who work together and speak as one voice to get things done. The mission of the Chamber is to provide leadership for the Baraboo Area in an effort to improve the economic environment and assist community development. As it works to better our community’s economy and quality of life, the Chamber keeps these broad objectives in mind:
• to help businesses prosper and grow;
• to increase job opportunities;
• to encourage an orderly expansion and development of all segments of the Baraboo area;
• to contribute to the overall economic stability of the Baraboo area.