CAMBRIDGE Recollections of successes following previous economic setbacks were made here when the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce honored the "Four Horsemen" during its Jan. 28 membership dinner at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Resort.
Dorchester Chamber Executive Director Allen Nelson explained how the four businessmen Bob Davis, Don Holdt, Herman Stevens and the late Phil Williamson were first called the Four Horsemen by the late Cambridge City Commissioner Charles Cornish.
When the foursome approached the city council with a project one evening, Nelson explained, Cornish is supposed to have said, "Here they come again, the Four Horsemen (probably a reference to the nickname given Notre Dame University's 1924 football backfield), what do they want now?"
The Dorchester chamber has also videotaped an interview with the three surviving members of the foursome, which will eventually be made available to the public.
The need for economic development boosters occurred in Cambridge after the Phillips Packing Co. (once the largest employer in the state) closed its doors in the late 1950s. Dorchester's unemployment rate reached 22 percent. "People were feeling defeated, they were sad," Nelson said.
In response, the then Cambridge-Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce created an industrial development committee in 1957, consisting of Herman Stevens, former publisher of The Daily Banner; Bob Davis, who ran a men's clothing store; Realtor Phil Williamson, who recently passed away; and Don Holdt, who had a role in locating Airpax, the company for which he then worked, in Cambridge and who would later open a medical equipment manufacturing company here before retiring.
In an article from a past edition of "Maryland Life" magazine, Davis explained how the four businessmen were selected "We were picked out strictly on a 'you, you, you and you' basis and literally didn't know where to begin."
Between 1958 and 1970, the Four Horsemen, with the help of other community members, are credited with bringing 18 new industries and businesses to Cambridge. Also during this 12-year period, Nelson said, Dorchester's average family annual income doubled.
The reasons for their success include perseverance and determination. Among the lessons they can offer community and business leaders today is that, Nelson said, "Over all of this time, they never had an argument."
In order to bring Bumble Bee Tuna here, the Four Horsemen are also credited with efforts which led to the development of the Port of Cambridge. Today the site has become Sailwinds Park and the former port warehouse is events venue Governors Hall. Bumble Bee's operation gave way to a different company in a few years, Coldwater Seafood, which closed a few years ago.
Perhaps the most dramatic tale of the Four Horsemen's economic development efforts involves how Western Publishing came to Cambridge. After first meeting the company's executive for a tour of Cambridge, the Four Horsemen realized a better offer was needed to bring the plant here instead of Gettysburg, Pa., a site favored by Western's CEO, who was a Civil War buff.
An emergency meeting of both the Dorchester County Commissioners and the Cambridge City Council was held and both local government boards agreed to offer a 10-year tax exemption to the company.
The Four Horsemen left Cambridge at midnight to drive through driving rain to Western's headquarters in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with the new offer. Western's executives were so impressed by the effort that they selected Cambridge as their new plant site.
News of Western's decision came by a phone call, according to the "Maryland Life" article, received in the midst of that year's annual chamber dinner, then held at American Legion Post 91. Many at the dinner were said to be so happy that they cried when they heard the news.