Capt. Neil Henly, the first president of the Steilacoom Chamber of Commerce, was born Sept. 1, 1855 in Scotland. His is a fascinating story. Henly ran away to sea when he was 14 and eventually made his way to Steilacoom. In 1882 he was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal. Shortly thereafter, he served a stint at McNeil Island Penitentiary — as a Guard not an inmate.
Capt. Henly married Marcella Rigney on Dec. 31, 1885. The couple had eight children.
Among his other many accomplishments, he operated the Royal Hotel in Victoria, B.C., he operated a grocery store and meat market for two years, and even served as Steilacoom’s Town Marshal and Tax Collector.
After retiring in 1922, he lived on McNeil Island until returning to Steilacoom in 1936. He organized the Steilacoom Chamber of Commerce and served on the council for two years. He passed away at age 88 in 1943. On Nov. 25, 2003 the Department of Corrections christened its new transport vessel as the MV Neil Henly in his honor.
Resurgence in 1991
For many years the town’s business organization lay dormant, but the Chamber received a shot in the arm in the spring of 1991 when Maj. Gen. (USA-ret) John Hemphill joined the organization and became the Chamber’s next president.
An offshoot of that revival, the Steilacoom Citizens’ Fireworks Committee also came together. Since that time, the Chamber has supported local businesses and the community in a variety of ways.
One of the Chamber’s most prominent public-facing products is our annual Business Directory. This publication has evolved from two mimeographed sheets of paper to a glossy, full-color booklet, distributed free of charge to residents in Steilacoom and parts of DuPont. Digital member listings now exist on our website too, making chamber businesses and members easier for the public to find online.
Besides hosting special membership meetings during the year for the 120-member organization, the Chamber sponsors the town’s popular, day-long Fourth of July celebration.
The Chamber’s other annual events include:
Town-wide Garage Sale (August)
The Town Tree Lighting (December)
Proceeds from our fundraising events, from cookbook sales, and from the 4th of July BBQ booth are earmarked for Steilacoom High School scholarships presented every June to district graduates. We’re always collaborating on new projects, frequently partnering with the Town of Steilacoom and its Economic Development Committee to enhance our community’s quality of life.