February 3, 2019
Temple Daily Telegram | Patricia Benoit
The Santa Fe Plaza is now adding more historic significance to the landscape with the awarding of two Official State Historical Markers honoring Temple’s business and civic engagement.
The Temple Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1907 as the Temple Commercial Club, and the Temple Rotary Club, founded in 1921, have been honored as being historically significant to Bell County and the state.
Both recognize the city’s business vitality and the community’s historic shift from fraternal and religious groups popular in the late 19th century to service and outreach organizations bolstered by 20th century commercial activism.
The two markers will be located in the downtown Santa Fe Plaza, now undergoing final redevelopment and will help explain and honor the legacy of this area surrounding the 1910 Santa Fe Depot. The depot, now the home of the Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum and an active Amtrak station, is the centerpiece of the plaza design. The Texas Historical Commission named Downtown Temple in 2018 a historic Main Street community.
The chamber’s marker will be placed at its new headquarters on the plaza. The Rotary marker will be placed at the Rotary Centennial Park pavilion next to Whistle Stop Playground near the plaza.
The Bell County Historical Commission is the local contact for the Texas Historical Commission, both dedicated to promoting and preserving Texas history.
The current marker program began in 1962, partly to boost heritage tourism. Since then, the program has undergone many changes making the approval process more competitive. Under revised guidelines introduced in 2009, the Texas Historical Commission approves up to 175 marker applications throughout the state. Each application is ranked and scored according to the broad historical themes relating to Texas history.
However, this year only 170 markers out of 256 submitted were approved, said Bob Brinkman, coordinator of THC’s Historical Markers Program.
The two Temple applications focused on long-term community service and continuing projects to promote the city and its quality of life.
Temple Chamber of Commerce
Temple, created by the Santa Fe Railway in 1881, had rapidly become a popular trading center for farmers with its compresses, feed grain enterprises, gins, oil refinery and companies catering to manufacturing farm equipment.
The booming city was approaching 11,000 in population by 1906 and still growing. Realizing the advantages of organized effort, Temple businessmen organized a Chamber of Commerce in April 1907 and hired a full-time director.
Announcing that there was “strength in numbers and cooperation,” businessmen decided to unite to grapple straight-on with problems. The first big project: Paving downtown muddy sidewalks and streets so shoppers could freely walk and shop.
With the business community organized and united in common goals, the chamber in 1909 first spearheaded the effort to win Blackland Experiment Station (now Texas AgriLife Research, Blackland Research and Extension Center), securing funds and acreage.
In less than two decades since its founding, the Temple Chamber of Commerce had racked up astounding successes: By 1920, the city’s population had risen almost 40 percent. A major Santa Fe Railway hub, Temple enjoyed a balanced economy, rooted in agriculture, transportation and health care.
The chamber also was a major catalyst in the creation of Temple College in 1927, Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) and McCloskey General Army Hospital (now the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center), both in 1942. The chamber also provided essential leadership in the partnership with other chambers, notably Belton and Killeen, to create Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
Throughout the century, the chamber has continued to be a federation of skilled people donating their time, talents and money to improve their community and promote economic growth and stability. It has become a “proving ground” for young executives to move up into higher positions in business, industry, government and public service.
The Temple Chamber also continued to provide essential leadership and funding for innovative ideas, among them hospital expansions, establishment of the Texas A&M University College of Medicine, under its Medical School Committee and creation of the Temple Health and Bioscience District in 2003.
Temple Rotary Club
After World War I, the Waco Rotary Club encouraged Temple businessmen to create its own Rotary chapter, which they did in April 1921.
Lumberman Roy Robert Campbell (1873-1952) and attorney John Britt Daniel (1877-1940) flipped a coin to determine who would be the first president and vice president. Campbell won. Members quickly focused on education as a top priority, creating a college student loan fund for outstanding students, awarded regardless of gender, race or ethnicity.
During World War II, the Temple club provided leadership to furnish a large greenhouse at McCloskey Hospital to beautify the grounds and to provide solace and therapy for recovering soldiers. The state’s Rotary Clubs generously responded with money or materials. The Temple Club received the contributions and greenhouse construction. Funds raised totaled $10,000 by 1945. Thus, the greenhouse and its horticulture therapy program were provided at no cost to soldiers or taxpayers.
More than 70 years later, the greenhouse is still in use and continues to be an important component for veterans’ occupational therapy and recuperation.
During the mid-1980s, the Temple Rotarians joined forces for their most ambitious project — erection of an 18-bedroom Ronald McDonald House to serve hospitalized children and their families traveling long distances for medical treatment. All of the Temple clubs pledged to raise the funds to build a $450,000 home-away-from-home for families. Individual Temple Rotarians donated South Temple acreage; other members provided construction materials, landscaping and furnishings.
Temple-area Rotarians have been recognized as contributing more than $600,000 to Rotary International in support of humanitarian projects worldwide that promote peace and understanding.