On March 20, 1924, James B. Chambers, then President of The First National Bank in Elm Grove, founded The James B. Chambers Memorial Association, a corporation created under the laws of West Virginia. The purpose of The James B. Chambers Memorial Association (J. B. Chambers Memorial) was intended to serve the needs (moral, social, and economic) of the children of Elm Grove. The J. B. Chambers Memorial was structured as a non-profit association both under West Virginia law and the Internal Revenue Code in effect at the time.
On May 6, 1933, J. B. Chambers died, thus passing the on-going administration of the J. B. Chambers Memorial to a governing board of trustees. In addition to a moderate amount of cash and marketable securities, the major asset of the J. B. Chambers Memorial was approximately 4.5 acres of land in Elm Grove, commonly referred to as “The Old Fairgrounds.” For many years, the Memorial operated a “Settlement House” and playground environment for children which was administered by Mrs. Dorothy Barker. This concept enjoyed much success for a number of years and was eventually operated in concert with the City of Wheeling’s Recreation Department. Unfortunately, because of deteriorating structures and their ongoing maintenance costs, as well as general societal changes, these once successful programs were no longer utilized by young people and could no longer continue.
The J. B. Chambers Foundation trustees continued to seek out opportunities to benefit young people and were successful in obtaining an able partner in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) of Wheeling. In June of 1969, the Memorial agreed to lease to the YMCA approximately 1 acre of its ground for a term of 99 years at a fee of $1 per year in order to construct the Chambers Family Branch YMCA. In addition to the leased land, the Memorial also participated as a significant contributor to the capital expansion and building project. As the YMCA grew, the need for more space became apparent. Responding to this need, the Memorial agreed to lease an additional 0.5 acres of its land to the YMCA in order to construct the Edmund Lee Jones Annex for the Family Branch YMCA. Again, the Memorial responded to the construction costs of the new addition and, in fact, fully funded its cost.
James B. Chambers was born on December 19, 1854 on a farm near West Alexander, PA. He was the son of James B. Chambers. He attended local schools, including the West Alexander Academy, and spent a year of study at Iron City College near Pittsburgh.
In the fall of 1872, he moved with his parents to a farm on National Road in Elm Grove, now a section of Wheeling, WV. A portion of that farm, once called Chambers Memorial Farm, is now the site of the J. B. Chambers YMCA.
In 1876 J. B. Chambers married Belle Whitman. They moved back to West Alexander in 1881, where J. B. Chambers lived the rest of his life. He continued to manage the Chambers farm and also was associated with the Dearling Implement Company of Cleveland, as a sales representative. In 1893, J. B. founded the Elm Grove Mining Company and managed it until the Paisley coal interests purchased it in 1915. He then led in the organization of the First National Bank of West Alexander (which later became the Citizen’s National Bank) and played a prominent role in the
formation of the First National Bank and Trust Company of Elm Grove. Later, Chambers formed the People’s National Bank of West Alexander. At the time of his death, he was president of the First National Bank and Trust and Vice President of the People’s National Bank.
J. B. Chambers’ first wife died in 1915. In 1920 he married Maude Armstrong, who survived him. He was also survived by a daughter, Mrs. Hazel G. McGill, of Claysville, PA. J.B. Chambers was a life-long member of the West Alexander Presbyterian Church, where he served as trustee for 20 years.
J. B. Chambers died at home on May 6, 1933. According to his obituary, his philanthropies were known throughout western Pennsylvania. Shortly before his death, he created the J. B. Chambers Memorial Foundation to carry on his life’s work. His will left substantial amounts to the Association, much of which was designated for support of his wife and daughter during their lifetimes before transferring to the Association.