Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

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Headquarters of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce in downtown Wilmington, NC

Originally organized in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1853,[1] the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce was incorporated in 1866 by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly. At that time, Wilmington business leaders appreciated the potential of North Carolina’s largest city and sought to lend guidance to the economic direction of the bustling port. While the Civil War and North Carolina’s secession from the Union delayed the original Chamber’s work, the eventual chartering in 1866 gave Wilmington’s organization the distinction of being the first Chamber of Commerce in the state of North Carolina.[1] Despite governmental chartering, it is not a governmental entity. The Chamber is a membership-based, nonprofit organization of diverse membership.


A Board of Directors oversees policy-making for a membership of more than 1,000 companies. The efforts of the Board and members are supported by a professional staff located on the banks of the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. Focus areas include Public Policy, Education, Infrastructure, Environment, Member Services, and Membership.


The Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce serves the Wilmington area business community by: strengthening the business environment; providing members with benefits and services to support their success; advocating a position on those business-related issues most beneficial to its members and the community; and participating in initiatives that positively affect the quality of life in the community. The Mission is enhanced through proactive leadership and partnerships throughout Southeastern North Carolina.

Chamber Locations Since 1880[2][edit]

1880-99: The Produce Exchange and Chamber of Commerce resided at the corner of Princess and North Water Streets, Wilmington, NC.

1889: Mercantile Association moved from The Orton Building on Front Street to Room 2 in the Smith Building on Princess.

1899: Chamber moved to Merchant’s Association apartments.

1901: Chamber moved to 225 North Front Street Bk.

1902: Chamber moved to Atlantic Bank Building at 14 Princess Street.

1908: Chamber moved to David Building on North Front Street in October 1908.

1910: The Old Morning Star Building, on the northern side of Princess between Front and Water, was offered to the Chamber to build a new building.

1914: Chamber moves to 7th Floor of new Murchison Building after Oct. 1, 1914 (Front and Chestnut Streets).

1920: Chamber of Commerce resided at 200 North Front Street Bk.

1924: Chamber moved to Princess Street annex of the McLelland store

1931: Chamber offices on Third Street.

1934: Wilmington Chamber of Commerce moved into Cape Fear Hotel.

1941: Chamber moved to 316 North Front Street Bk.

1945: Chamber of Commerce resided in the Wilson Hut at the corner of Princess Street and 4th Street.

1969: Chamber housed at 514 Market Street (Price-Gause House).[3]

1990: Chamber moved to Coastline Convention Center on Nutt Street.

1993–Present: Chamber resides at One Estell Lee Place.

Historical Notes 1853-1897[4][edit]

1853 – Chamber of Commerce formed

1869 – Members assessed $15 each to rent a room to locate the chamber.

1874 – Chamber committee visited Washington, DC to solicit a loan of $10,000 to $20,000 to continue work on the Cape Fear River and Bar Improvements until proper appropriations can be obtained.[5]

1874 – Principal efforts of chamber has been improvement of “our bar and river.” The result is a vessel with a draft of 15’4” passed through Bald Head channel.

1880 – Report at annual meeting details closing of New Inlet and continued improvements on river.

1884 – Chamber reports a channel of 18 feet at ordinary high water from ocean to Wilmington if expected appropriation is made during next session of Congress.

1889 – Chamber meets to take action to insure success at the polls of measure exempting from taxation for a period of ten years new manufacturing industries started up in the city of Wilmington.

1896 – Chamber develops marketing advertisement showing advantages of harbor.

Historical Notes 1899-1928[6][edit]

1899 – Chamber urges county or city ownership of Brunswick Ferry needed to decrease fares and increase trade from Brunswick County.

1901 – Chamber solicits money from its 106 members to send to Galveston after the 1900 Galveston Hurricane.

1903 – Savannah, Georgia organizes a chamber fashioned after the Wilmington Chamber. Chamber celebrates 50 year anniversary.

1905 – Chamber gets new blackboard to posts quotes from NY and Liverpool Cotton Exchanges, Chicago and Savannah Boards of Trade, NY Produce and Coffee Exchanges, and statistical matters on cotton and naval stores.

1906 – Chamber calls for river to be deepened to 24’ at mean low tide.[5]

1909 – Chamber opposes raise in rates for residence phones in city.

1915 – Chamber goes on record as being opposed to “billboard nuisances,” and favoring a park and tree commission.

1926 – Chamber hears proposal for air service from Asheville, North Carolina to Wilmington.

Historical Notes 1929-Present[7][edit]

1933 – Board of Trade and Chamber merge.

1940 – Report presented to reorganize chamber. Entire board resigns in anticipation of new organization.

1945 – City purchased Woodrow Wilson hut from county to house chamber and other organizations.

1946 – Chamber endorses University of North Carolina branch for Wilmington.

1948 – Chamber leaders recommend hiring industrial consultant to represent area across the United States.

1953 – Chamber reminds community of economic impact of tourist and conventioneer dollars, using the Electrochemical Society and Sea Horse Institute’s meetings as example of 500-600 delegates leaving $75,000 in community in 5 days.

1954 – Chamber pushes for U.S. Route 17 improvements to make it a major north-south route and names off-street parking the number one community need.

1955 – Chamber calls for federal funds to repair beaches damaged by Hurricane Hazel. Funds requested to dredge harbor to 34 ft.

1956 – Chamber secures funds from business community to launch Industrial Committee of 100.[8]

1957 – Chamber solicits over $1,000,000 in conference and convention business for community.

1959 – Chamber testifies at hearing to justify need for river deepening to 36 feet. Also supports site for proposed bridge over Cape Fear River.

1960 – Chamber continues to stress need for high-level bridge over the Cape Fear River, indicating a low-level bridge will impede economic growth.

1961 – Chamber endorses need for new hospital and encourages votes to approve hospital bond issue.

1965 – Chamber sponsors Southeastern North Carolina Stock Show and names International Trade Committee. Hosts Governor’s Agriculture–Industrial Tour.

1966 – First woman joins chamber as private citizen. Chamber leads effort resulting in Wilmington being named an All America City.

1968 – Chamber leads bond referendum for airport improvement.

1969 – Chamber participates in tourism and travel shows across the US, highlighting benefits of travel to Southeastern NC.

1970 – Chamber calls for extending Interstate 40 from its terminus in Durham, NC to Wilmington.

1973 – Chamber establishes Energy Task Force to help community deal with energy crisis, endorses referendum to allow sales of mixed beverages in counties that authorize such sales, and endorses the concept of a joint governmental complex to serve city and county.

1984 – Chamber hosts its second State Legislative Reception for the North Carolina General Assembly during the North Carolina Azalea Festival.

1993 – Chamber moves into new headquarters on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

1997 – Chamber leads education effort for New Hanover Schools and Cape Fear Community College bond effort.

2000 – Chamber leads local community education effort for successful statewide Higher Education bond campaign.[9]

2006 – Chamber leads successful Park & Recreation Bond and Transportation Bond effort[10]

2006 – Chamber starts Cape Fear Future[11] initiative to help attract and retain knowledge sector workforce.

2008 – Chamber instrumental in planning commissioning ceremony in Wilmington for nuclear submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777).[12]


  1. ^ a b General Assembly of North Carolina, 2003 Session, House Resolution 1340,
  2. ^ Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce archives
  3. ^ Lower Cape Fear Historical Society
  4. ^ New Hanover County Library, Bill Reeves Collection, VanBokkelen file, 10-9-1883 S, 1-2-1881 S, 10-7-1882 S, 8-14-1888 S
  5. ^ a b Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916 By James Sprunt
  6. ^ New Hanover County Library, Bill Reeves Collection, Foy file
  7. ^ New Hanover County Library, Bill Reeves Collection, Galloway file
  8. ^ Carolina Business, "Wilmington Industrial Development Committee Of 100 Celebrates 50 Years Of Progress", by Christine Bonin, 2006
  9. ^ The Chronicles of Higher Education, "North Carolina Passes Bond Measure for Colleges", November 8, 2000, by Jeffrey Selingo
  10. ^ Wilmington Star-News; April 10, 2006, by Patrick Gannon.
  11. ^ Greater Wilmington Business Journal, July 2007 edition, "New Chamber Initiative Gets Creative", by Sarah Bon,
  12. ^ Wilmington Star-News, "USS North Carolina Officially Joins Fleet", May 3, 2008, by Amy Hotz,

External links[edit]