Building a city: Chelsea to mark 20th anniversary in March

Published 4:15 pm Friday, February 19, 2016

Chelsea will mark its 20th anniversary as a city on March 1.

Chelsea will mark its 20th anniversary as a city on March 1. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)


CHELSEA – The history of a city can sometimes fade with the passage of time.

Decades, even centuries, start to separate the area’s forefathers from current generations of residents, and books replace people as the primary source of information about the city’s beginnings.

For Chelsea, however, this isn’t the case. The history of Chelsea’s birth isn’t limited to dusty books on a library shelf; most of the people who worked so hard to form what is now a thriving municipality are still around, and still contribute to Chelsea’s success story.

In 20 years, the city's population has increased from 906 to nearly 12,000 people. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

In 20 years, the city’s population has increased from 906 to nearly 12,000 people. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

On March 1, Chelsea will mark its 20th anniversary as a city.

Much has changed in the area over the last 20 years. As residents prepare for the future – and new municipal leaders following this year’s election – a look at the past seems in order for the city that has established itself as one of Shelby County’s fastest-growing areas along the U.S. 280 corridor.


In the mid-1990s, Mayor Earl Niven and more than 20 other residents formed a committee that worked to fulfill requirements for Chelsea to be incorporated and stake a claim on U.S. 280, an undeniable wellspring of ongoing revenue.

The committee had to collect signatures from people and registered landowners in the area, and file a list with the Shelby County probate judge with the intent to incorporate.

“We had a slogan back then: ‘You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it,'” Niven said. “We wanted to protect our identity, provide for our people and protect territory we consider to be Chelsea. Developing a city is not just an overnight phenomenon.”

The probate judge set up an election for the area encompassing registered voters, who were tasked with voting yes or no to incorporating.

Roughly 94 percent voted in favor of Chelsea becoming a city.

The first council was elected to a term from March to August. Niven was chosen as the first mayor, and Glen Autry, Bob Combs, Shelby Blackerby, Earlene Isbell and the late Col. John Ritchie were elected to the council.

The city’s original budget was no more than $33,000, compared to nearly $7.5 million now.

The biggest differences in Chelsea from 1996 to 2016 are the people and commercial development, Niven said.

In 1996, Chelsea’s population consisted of 906 people, compared to about 12,000 today.

“Development of subdivisions that brought people in created the demand for our commercial base,” Niven said.

Chelsea’s public service sector began to expand, too.

In December 1998, the council approved a resolution establishing the Citizen Observer Patrol, an all-volunteer group sponsored by the city and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office whose purpose is to keep watch over neighborhoods and businesses, deter crime and provide traffic control during emergencies and major events in the city.

Instead of operating a police department, the city contracts with the SCSO for deputies to cover the area full-time. The COP assists the SCSO by reporting suspicious activity and problem situations.

“Right now, that is the best way to provide police service to our city,” Niven said.

Chelsea’s volunteer fire department became a municipal department in October 2000.

Like the city itself, each department has experienced growth and progress.