by David Anderson
Kinston Free Press
City, county and Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce leaders gathered Monday to celebrate the Chamber’s 100th birthday, but the concept of a chamber of commerce is one that stretches back centuries to the European Renaissance.
Dale Carroll, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce and the guest speaker at Monday’s celebration, said the earliest-known organizing of businesses — and the first use of the name “chamber of commerce” — took place in France in the late 1500s.
From there, the concept spread throughout Europe, and eventually to the Americas. The first chamber of commerce in North America was chamber of the state of New York — a British colony at the time. It was founded in 1768 and chartered by King George III in 1770.
“That makes it older than the Declaration of Independence,” Carroll said.
The first local chamber in America was formed in Charleston, S.C. in 1773.
“There are more than 5,000 chambers of commerce in the United States today,” Carroll said.
Kinston’s Chamber of Commerce was incorporated on Oct. 31, 1911. C. Felix Harvey Sr. of L. Harvey & Sons was the first president, and he gathered with other prominent business elected leaders in the city, such as then-Mayor W.D. LaRoque, J.H. Canady, Dr. J.M. Parrott and others.
“Let’s take a moment to look back 100 years,” Carroll said. “The Mexican Revolution was in full swing; the first expedition to the South Pole was getting underway and Lucille Ball was born.”
He also read part of a letter of congratulations Gov. Bev Perdue sent to Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber officials.
“Your efforts are strengthening communities and building a foundation of economic stability for years to come,” Perdue wrote. “You are truly making a difference in Kinston/Lenoir County and beyond.”
In addition to Carroll’s speech, Monday’s event included recognition of present and past chamber presidents, and board chairpersons, and a dedication of Centennial Corner, a small landscaped area next to Tiffany West Park at the intersection of Herritage and King streets.
Centennial Corner includes benches made of fabricated metal and granite that was once part of the Herritage Street curb, an engraved brick patio and a time capsule.
“The Centennial Corner is a celebration of the men and women, families and businesses that have helped shape the commerce of Kinston and Lenoir County,” current board chairman Kevin Zoltek said.
Deborah Grimes, board chair for 2010, said, “this project helps express gratitude that mere words cannot.”
George Graham, chairman of the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners, noted the chamber has often served as a mediator when city and county elected officials were at odds with each other.
“I’d like to say, ‘Happy birthday Chamber,’ and one of the things we’ve learned over the years is, working together works!” Graham said.
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said that “as long as the Chamber of Commerce exists, we can be sure that our businesses are making money, our citizens have jobs and our children have a reason to come back home.”
David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.