During the early 20th century, Sedalia sought to become a destination for conventions, whether gatherings of club women, fraternal orders, occupational organizations, and churches. The Missouri State Fairgrounds offered a perfect place for large gatherings. Convention Hall was built as a site for large group meetings.
Sedalians recognized the money that fairgoers brought to Sedalia. Those who proposed the building of Convention Hall emphasized that more money would come to Sedalia if large groups chose to meet here.
Sedalians also recognized that hosting large numbers of people required a concerted effort from all parts of the community — hotel keepers, restaurant owners, grocers, merchants, laundries and pharmacies, as well as the citizens who rented extra rooms to visitors.
On Jan. 29, 1920, the Sedalia Democrat announced that the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce was making plans to host the annual International Conference of the Church of the Brethren to be held June 10 through 16.
The Church of the Brethren traces its origins to the early 18th century in Switzerland, which had been the location of many religious reform movements. The group stressed peaceful actions, compassion, plain living, and a shared search for truth, and observed the ordinances of adult baptism, observing the Lord’s Supper with footwashing, taking the elements, expressions of love for one another, and anointing the sick.
Most of the Brethern had migrated to the United States by 1740, settling primarily in Pennsylvania. Their enthusiastic missionary efforts led to formation of congregations in Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. After the Revolutionary War, the church spread to Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. By the 1800s, the Brethren had congregations in Kansas, Iowa and the far west.
Despite a major split among groups of Brethren in the 1880s, the Church of the Brethren remained strong. They formed Sunday Schools and youth programs, emphasizing service to the community, and sent missionaries through the world.
The church’s yearly conference drew several thousand members who met to worship, fellowship and discuss church policy. Wichita, Kan., hosted the convention with 20,000 attendees during the First World War. In 1919, Winona Lake, Ind., claimed a crowd of 40,000, but acknowledged that many of those were in town to attend other conventions. Hershey, Pa., which had hosted a number of Church of the Brethren conferences, counted between 15 and 20,000 visitors.
Sedalia competed with a number of other communities to secure the conference, offering “facilities for the convenience, utility, and comfort of the delegates.” The city would spend $3,000 to host the convention, but was sure the city would profit from the number of visitors.
One Chamber of Commerce member told a Democrat reporter that holding the convention would be like having “two state fairs in one year.” The Chamber noted that bankers reported tens of thousands dollars of deposits resulting from increased business during the fair and anticipated a similar influx of cash from this convention.
The increased use of automobiles and the improved roads would, Chamber members said, allow more delegates to attend, and to spend money at Sedalia’s service stations. Visitors would also come by rail from all parts of the United States and by ship and rail from Europe, Great Britain, Central America, the Sandwich Islands and Australia.
The Chamber of Commerce had established several committees who would begin working in January to handle the details necessary to assure that the conference was a success. They would “confidently rely upon the hearty cooperation and liberal support of every business in the city.”