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THE STAMFORD BOARD OF TRADE
Registration Sheet February 1989
Revised May 1996
In its brief history of 1890 events, the Stamford Directory notes: "A preliminary meeting to organize a local Board of Trade was held in the office of Bishop and Taylor, January 21st,  and the project was perfected at a public meeting held in Alex. Weed's Building February 14th."
The young Board of Trade survived the Panic of 1893, and its zeal for the growth of Stamford soon attracted the heads of the city's leading businesses and industries, exemplified by these officers elected in 1898:
Charles H. Lounsbury, president: Head of Lounsbury & Soule, a prosperous shoe manufactory at 128 Broad St., secretary of Stamford Gas & Electric Co., and later president of Stamford Savings Bank. Mr. Lounsbury lived at 22 Bedford St.
N. C. Downs, vice president: Lawyer, Judge of City Court, lived in Suburban Club.
W. D. Smith, vice president: Owner of a coal and wood company at the foot of Atlantic Street, director of two banks, later president of Citizens Savings Bank. His home was in the first block of Glenbrook Avenue.
John A. Brown, treasurer: President of Stamford Trust Company. His home was at 98 Broad Street.
Robert Whittaker, secretary: City editor and later editor of The Stamford Advocate. He lived at 157 Grove Street. Remaining as secretary until 1912, he never hesitated to prod the Board into activity. In his later years he served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and as Postmaster for Stamford.
In January, 1903, with membership at 118, Mr. Lounsbury retired and 32-year old Homer S. Cummings, an attorney finishing a term as Mayor of Stamford, became president, serving with distinction for nine years. The list of directors for 1903 shows remarkable community interest. Added to those named above are:
- Joseph G. Houghton, vice president: Secretary-Treasurer of Cooperative Building Bank of New York and a city councilman.
- Sylvester L. Knapp: Proprietor of a carriage dealership.
- A. R. Hart: New York businessman.
- Tobias Bernhardt: Proprietor of a millinery shop and a large landowner.
- Schuyler Merritt: Vice president and secretary of Yale & Towne.
- Leonard Blondell: Paving and roofing contractor, owner of a coal company.
- J. A. Hislop: Proprietor of a dry goods store.
- Theodore Hoyt, proprietor of a meat market and of the Hoyt Pump Company.
- Walton Ferguson: President of Stamford Gas & Electric Co., president of St. John Wood-Working Co., vice president of Stamford Trust Company.
- Warren H. Taylor: Superintendent at Yale & Towne Manufacturing Company.
- Edward M. Ayres: Proprietor of Ayres Bros. real estate company.
The purposes of the Board of Trade are best stated in its 1906 Articles:
“The objects of this association shall be the promotion of the interests and welfare of Stamford, the development of its trade, the encouragement therein of commercial and manufacturing enterprises, the increase of intercourse among those engaged in business, the improvement of facilities for transportation, the protection of local interests from unjust discrimination, the diffusion of information concerning trade, manufacturing and other interests of Stamford, and the furthering of all matters tending to the advancement of its interests as a business community, and to the general prosperity and welfare of its citizens.”
For all these high ideals, annual dues were held at only $2.00, and total annual expenses hovered around $125.00 for many years! Part of this went to the vigorous Robert Whittaker who was paid $50.00 yearly, post facto, for his labors.
Major functions were to entice new industries, providing workers with jobs and investors with profit opportunities, and increasing the number of up-scale residents. In 1901, for instance, the secretary wrote over 100 letters to people considering setting up manufacturing here, answering questions about sites, buildings, and inducements which might be offered in cash, real estate and stock.
Careful screening was necessary. Greedy entrepreneurs were rampant. As secretary Whittaker wrote in the Advocate in January, 1904:
“Stamford [is] not easily fooled . . . by any promoter or industrial scheme which has come to its door with a prospectus in one hand and requests for subscriptions of stock and donations of land and buildings in the other.”
He felt Stamford should resist big gifts, but rather should stress location near New York, good trains and harbors, public improvements, freedom from labor unrest, and a great place to live.
The Board's annual banquets or smokers were high spots. On May 23, 1902, 150 members filled Burlington Music Hall, with Mayor Homer S. Cummings and the Hon. Schuyler Merritt as speakers. In 1904, cigars for the event cost $26.35!
Here are a few of the Board's projects, as gleaned from the minutes:
||Urged Stamford-to-Long Island ferry service, and estimated the cost of an appropriate steamboat at $10,000.
|Deplored removal of old horse-hitching posts and rails in the town center. Established a new hitching area on Summer St. which lasted many years.
||Requested the widening of Canal Street.
|Set up a committee to assist establishment of the Public Library.
|Brought in speakers to promote the idea of municipal garbage disposal. Urged paving the Connecticut Turnpike from Mianus bridge to New Haven. Called for draining the salt meadows lying along the canal.
|Petitioned the street railways to run through-cars between Stamford and Greenwich centers, with only one 5-cent fare. 600 petitioners signed!
|Favored a tearoom in the center of the city to benefit lady shoppers.
|Re-opened the cross-sound ferry issue. The "S.E.Spring" had started regular runs August 10, 1903, but was wrecked in a squall 5 weeks later.
|Fought for pure milk, resulting in appointment of city milk inspector.
|Brought in Probate Court Judge F. C. Taylor on Nov. 10, 1903 to stress need for more secure and spacious vaults for the records of the Probate Court and the Town Clerk's office. This was prophetic: The Town Hall was destroyed by a spectacular fire less than 3 months later on Feb. 4, 1904 and the records in question were saved only by quick, heroic efforts.
1904 was an upsetting year. Displaced by the Town Hall fire, the Board of Trade met in the Common Council's temporary room in the Advocate Building or in the Mayor's office in the Merritt Building. The Spanish-American War cancelled meetings after June, and at year-end the treasurer listed 35 delinquent members.
In 1905 the Board worked on the railroad. Many requests were made to increase the number of trains stopping here, including a "midnight express" for theatre-goers. The members sought a "flat" commutation rate to New York City; the present rates were higher in summer than winter.
The decade from 1900 to 1910 was truly a boom time. Population grew 53%, from 18,839 to 28,836, pushing Stamford ahead of Norwalk, Danbury and Norwich into 7th place in the State. Promoted as a city of beautiful homes and thriving industry, the community ran short of homes. Henry R. Towne wrote the Board in 1906 deploring the lack of housing for new employees of Yale & Towne.
On April 4, 1907, the Board of Trade returned to the City Court Room for its meetings, but this time in the brand new Town Hall on Atlantic Square. Recovering from the Panic of 1907, membership grew to 235 by 1909.
Though early attempts to merge the Board of Trade with the Manufacturers' Association had failed, by 1909 the two groups were working together and including the Rural Association in matters such as extending trolley service to the northern part of town, plans for a State Armory in Stamford, and preference for concrete instead of Macadam roads. Stamford often joined other towns in regional interests such as improving the deplorable Connecticut Turnpike, but sometimes opposed its neighbors as when Darien was taken out of the Stamford telephone district in 1912.
In 1910, the Board launched a new drive to bring industry here. It offered to pay travel expenses, and placed three automobiles at the disposal of visiting executives. It proposed a building to rent space to small companies. Prominently displayed near the station platform was the illuminated slogan:
“BUSY AND BEAUTIFUL STAMFORD”
At the beginning of 1916, the Stamford Board of Trade, now at 556 Main Street with Dr. Frank H. Barnes, proprietor of the Barnes Sanitorium, as its last president, changed its name to The Stamford Chamber of Commerce, Inc., and elected a new slate of officers headed by ex-mayor Charles H. Leeds. The Chamber operated for 54 years, and on June 5, 1970, was merged into SACIA, The Southwestern Area Commerce & Industry Association of Connecticut, Inc. All functions were removed to Norwalk, later returning to Stamford.
The book of minutes covered by this registration ends with the meeting of June 18, 1912, possibly the last official duty in the long tenure of secretary Robert Whittaker. The book was retired with many blank pages remaining. At some time during the next 65 years, the volume went to the Stamford Advocate, perhaps to its author, Mr. Whittaker. When the old Advocate building was cleared out, the well worn minutes book was salvaged by Don Russell who recognized the name of the early Advocate editor, and understood the book's historic value. Mr. Russell donated the volume to the Stamford Historical Society in July, 1988.
Robert D. Towne
Stamford Historical Society
Revised May 1996
Stamford Advocate. Tercentenary Edition: Town of Stamford, Connecticut. Pp. 101, 114, 118. Stamford, CT: June 7, 1941.
Stamford Board of Trade. Minutes 1890-1895, Book 1. Pp. 1-245. Reported in 1973 to be in possession of Chamber of Commerce, now SACIA.
Stamford Board of Trade. Minutes Jan. 1902 - June 1912. Book III (?).Subject of this registration. Library of Stamford Historical Society.
Feinstein, Estelle. Stamford in the Gilded Age, 1868-1893. P.21. Stamford: Stamford Historical Society. 1973. Stamford Directory. 1891-92 Ed., P. 252. Also listings and advertisements on inside back covers of succeeding editions. Stamford: Gillespie Bros. 1891-1895; Price & Lee Co., 1898-1916.
List of Records
Stamford Board of Trade Minutes of Board Meetings, Jan. 6, 1902 - June 18, 1912.
8-1/8 x 10-5/8", black leather-bound journal. Written in the hand of Robert Whittaker, secretary. Includes news clippings. [Also lists names of 179 who were members during the 10-year period, annotated with dates joined, resigned, moved or died. 113 were active in 1912.]