The institution now known as the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce has a long history. It dates back to the formation of a community group organized on March 7, 1887. Known at that time as the Saratoga Village Improvement Association, this was the first known Saratoga booster association. The members met to improve the community welfare and they were the forerunner of many local improvement groups that were variously named the Board of Trade, Village Association and currently, the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has had a critical role in the development of the Saratoga community and was instrumental in helping Saratoga incorporate as a modern town.
The goals of the very first group, the Association formed in 1887, were to beautify the area. They met to lobby the County supervisors for road improvement that included grading and regular sprinkling, planting hedges and promoting Saratoga. Highway 9, now known as Big Basin Way, was a critical County thoroughfare dating back to the days before statehood. It provided the Saratoga area with an important economic advantage because it was the route to the lucrative lumber mills in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This route was also the road to Congress Springs and the scenic areas in the hills. The Association was keenly aware of the potential of this important local asset and wanted to make sure it was a scenic and reliable route.
The first officers of the Saratoga Village Improvement Association were all local residents of some stature. The president was Milton Myrick, a former State Supreme Court Justice. The 1st Vice President was James E. Gordon, owner of the Miramonte Ranch. Carrie Gordon was the Corresponding Secretary. The 2nd Vice President was Jennie Farwell and her brother Frank served as the Treasurer. The Farwell’s served on many other Saratoga boards including the School Board, Madronia Cemetery District and the Congregational Church. Mr. L. A. Sage, the owner and operator of the prestigious Congress Springs Resort was the Recording Secretary.
Saratoga has been noted as a destination for travelers and tourists as early as the 1850’s. Church groups from San Jose held regular meetings in a “cathedral of oaks” as early as 1852, returning to this beautiful site on a regular basis. When the Congress Springs resort opened in 1866, the area began attracting regular visitors from outside the area. San Francisco residents Darius O. Mills and Alvinza Hayward built their own “summer cottages” next to the Congress Springs resort. A small but steady stream of visitors began making their way to Saratoga to rest and recover their health with water from the mineral springs.
Around the turn of the century it became popular for towns to give themselves a nickname. Known for years as “The Gateway to Big Basin”, Saratoga boosters decided to widen the little town’s appeal. San Jose was the “Garden City” and Los Gatos was the “Gem City”. Saratoga called itself “Crown of the Valley, the Pasadena of the North”. While the name was not overwhelmingly popular, the Saratoga area was still a magnet for visitors.
Mindful of the scenic attractions of their extraordinary community, Saratoga residents again reorganized the booster group to promote the area. The Saratoga Blossom Festival, introduced in 1900, added to the appearance of the first Interurban Railway in 1904, exposed the area to a much larger audience. Saratoga Village businesses faced the challenges of serving a much larger group of visitors.
The overwhelming success of the Blossom Festival revitalized the Village Improvement Association which was renamed the Saratoga Improvement Association. The focus of this group became the organization of the annual Blossom Festival. To serve local business, the Saratoga Board of Trade was organized in 1904 with physician Dr. Robert L. Hogg and real estate developer Charles C. Bell as officers. The Board of Trade focused their efforts on street lighting and road repairs while supporting the promotional activities of the Saratoga Improvement Association.
The Saratoga Improvement Association voted to change their name to the Chamber of Commerce on October 4, 1926. One of their first major accomplishments was to change the name of Lumber Street to Big Basin Way. There were twelve members voting, and the name of Big Basin Way was the leading choice with 9 votes. Through the early years of Saratoga development, the welfare of the Saratoga community was in the hands of a small but progressive group of community leaders. This critical vote in 1926 illustrates the importance of the effort of a small and committed band of citizens.
Saratoga remained a small community until after World War II in 1945. Over the years, the Chamber of Commerce acted as a sort of unofficial town council, continuing to guide the welfare of the community. In the early 1950’s, the threat of annexation by nearby San Jose forced residents to organize and incorporate. n open forum, organized and sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and held on November 14, 1955, was the formal start of a new order for Saratoga.
Attendees decided to organize a formal committee to study the issue of incorporation. The president of the Chamber, Mrs. Hugh Purcell, lost no time organizing. She quickly notified all the various civic groups so each would send a representative. The Study Committee had 40 members. Although Saratoga was still a small community with only a few thousand residents, everyone was represented through one group or another.
The vote to incorporate was held on September 25, 1956 and it was a squeaker. The vote was 1,687 to 1,527. Only 160 votes made the difference. A five member Council was elected and San Jose State professor Dr. Burton R. Brazil was voted the first mayor by his fellow Council members.
The Chamber occupied an office at 14483 Big Basin Way in 1969 and then moved to 14417 Big Basin Way in the early 1970’s. In 1976 the Chamber moved their office to the newly renovated McWilliams House in the Saratoga Historical Park. Chamber activities eventually outgrew the tiny house and in January of 2003 the Chamber relocated, returning once again to an office on Big Basin Way.
Sources: Chamber of Commerce Records and minutes of the Saratoga Village Improvement Association from the archives of the Saratoga Museum.
Saratoga Chamber of Commerce Sponsors