Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce celebrating 120th anniversary at upcoming event - East Idaho News
'A lengthy legacy'

Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce celebrating 120th anniversary at upcoming event

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IDAHO FALLS – More than 20 years after Matt Taylor had built the bridge to freight goods across the Snake River, Eagle Rock had become a burgeoning farming community with several thousand people living there.

It was the mid-1880s and the city’s access to water in an otherwise desolate area in the Pacific Northwest had brought people to what is now Idaho Falls. The hydroelectric dam and waterfall did not yet exist. At that time, it was nothing more than a small set of rapids that led into a canyon where the river narrowed.

People came by the thousands when the railroad was built in 1879. It pulled out more than a decade later, causing many shop owners to relocate to Blackfoot or Pocatello. By 1890, the town had shrunk and the city fathers feared the town would fold.

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But a marketing scheme capitalizing on the city’s most abundant resource changed all that. In 1891, the name was officially changed to Idaho Falls and it was advertised as “the city of destiny.”

“Farmers don’t like eagles and they sure don’t like rocks. Switching the name to Idaho Falls … let farmers know that there was plenty of water and land in the area,” Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Baker tells

snake river in idaho falls 1800s
Photo in the Idaho Falls Chamber building showing the Snake River in Idaho Falls before the hydroelectric dam existed. | Rett Nelson,

Though it would be years before the iconic dam would be built, the strategy worked and Idaho Falls became a boomtown. Over the next 30 years, it grew from a town just shy of 2,000 people to a city of about 8,000 people.

The Idaho Falls Commercial Club, the predecessor to the Chamber, was formed in 1904, according to historical records provided by the Museum of Idaho. Three years later, it became the Idaho Falls Club of Commerce and attorney J. Wesley Holden was its first president. It became the Idaho Falls Chamber on April 5, 1922.

holden pic
J. Wesley Holden obituary photo as it appeared in the Post Register on Oct. 8, 1940. | Courtesy Museum of Idaho

The organization changed its name to the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce last year.

It’s now been 120 years since the Chamber’s creation and it’s hosting a community event to celebrate. A 1920s-themed Speakeasy Soiree is happening April 5 at 7 p.m. inside the Westbank Convention Center at 525 River Parkway.

“We have a 20-piece live jazz band and a dance instructor coming,” Baker says. “It’s a fancy occasion and we’re encouraging people to dress up.”

Appetizers and a cash bar will be available. Guests will be given a secret password to get in.

“It’s going to be decorated by Signature Party & Events and they’re going all out,” says Baker. “They’re really excited about it.”

idaho falls chamber presidents
Document obtained from the Museum of Idaho showing past Idaho Falls Chamber presidents.

Major accomplishments and looking to the future

Baker, who was hired as the Chamber CEO on May 1, 2023, is one in a long line of people to serve in the position. He’s thrilled to be celebrating the organization’s 120th anniversary.

“It’s a real privilege to be sitting in this seat,” he says. “One hundred and twenty years is a lengthy legacy and the Chamber has done quite a lot over the years.”

RELATED | Idaho Falls Chamber’s new CEO outlines goals for the future

One purpose of the chamber of commerce is to provide a network of resources for local businesses to grow and thrive.

When it was formed in 1904, Baker says there was a fire in a square north of Broadway on Park Avenue. About 20 businesses were destroyed.

“I can imagine one of the first things this Chamber was involved in was getting support and help to those people (who were impacted),” says Baker.

The fire at Reed’s Dairy earlier this year has given the current Chamber a similar opportunity to rally around another local business.

RELATED | Reeds Dairy owner grateful for community support following fire that destroyed production building

Agriculture and tourism have remained the backbone of the area’s economy over the years. These elements, along with expansions at the Idaho National Laboratory, have played a pivotal role in the growth of the area.

chamber pic 2
Old ad for the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce’s Tourist Aide Service promoting tourism in the area. Date unknown. | Courtesy Museum of Idaho

The Chamber’s been involved in bringing numerous amenities to the city over the years. The construction of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint Temple during the 1940s is one example Baker cites.

More recently, Baker says the Chamber funded the feasibility study for the construction of the Mountain America Center.

RELATED | The Mountain America Center’s first year was a huge success. Here’s what’s coming in 2024

“Two key pieces of architecture spread over a lengthy period of time that are a staple of the area we live in. The Chamber has been involved in that,” he says.

Over the last year, Baker says there’s been a complete shift in energy and direction and the board has a clearer strategy and purpose. New Chamber memberships are already at 50% of last year’s totals, he says.

Baker notes Idaho Falls was recently named the best-performing small city in America by the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank in Santa Monica, California.

RELATED | Idaho Falls mayor focuses on growth and citizens making a difference in State of the City address

Though he appreciates that recognition, Baker says it’s not necessarily something the city can control but it’s up to the Chamber to “attract talent and invest money and resources” to help maintain a thriving environment for the future.

“We may not be the fastest-growing small city in the country 10 years from now, but we definitely want to leverage the success we’re seeing to create a sustainable future for our children and generations going forward,” he says.

Tickets for the Speakeasy Soiree are $40. To learn more or buy tickets, click here.

Flyer for the event | Courtesy Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce