When the Board of Trade became the Richmond Chamber of Commerce in 1867, Andrew Johnson was the 17th president of the United States.
That same year, Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederate States of America, returned to Richmond for the first time since the surrender of the Confederate Army to the Union army.
Twenty-eight men or businesses called for the first meeting on Aug. 30, 1867. At a meeting in October 1868 marking its first year, the chamber had grown to 348 members. But 288 members were delinquent in paying their $5 annual dues.
Although most first-year firms are long gone, some evolved and stand today, such as Isaac Davenport’s investment firm — Davenport & Co., which he and Charles E. Wortham founded in 1863. Isaac Davenport was elected as the initial first vice president of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.
“We appreciate the chamber’s mission to promote business and make sure we have a vibrant business community,” said I. Lee Chapman IV, president and CEO of Davenport, one of oldest, employee-owned independent investment firms in the United States. Davenport has been a chamber member for as long as he and other employees can recall.
Chapman attributed the longevity of Davenport to staying true to its mission of taking care of clients on an individual basis.
Other original members were H.E.C. Baskervill, vice president of the Corn and Flour Exchange, whose son founded one of Richmond’s most successful architecture firms by the same last name; the Dispatch Office (now the Richmond Times-Dispatch); and Watkins, Cottrell & Co, which operated from 1867 to 1972 as a Richmond wholesaler of hardware, guns and cutlery (the company’s three-story building on 14th Street is now home to furniture retailer LaDiff).
Baskervill’s son, Henry Baskervill, who was born 150 years ago, partnered with William Churchill Noland in 1897 to form Noland and Baskervill, which was renamed Baskervill and Son and later changed to Baskervill, an architecture, engineering and interior design firm that operates today in Shockoe Slip.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch — now the primary daily newspaper in the state capital — has existed in some form since 1850, when the Daily Dispatch was founded. A competing paper, The Daily Times, was founded in 1886 by Lewis Ginter.
A year later, Ginter sold The Daily Times to Joseph Bryan, starting the newspaper’s long association with the Bryan family. In 1903, The Times and The Richmond Dispatch consolidated into the Richmond Times-Dispatch, owned by Bryan.
The Times-Dispatch eventually became part of Richmond-based Media General Inc., which sold the paper and its other newspapers to BH Media, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, in 2012. Media General, which became an owner of television stations across the country, was acquired in January by Texas-based Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. in deal valued at $4.6 billion.
Also on the list for the first meeting was Woodhouse & Parham. Business partners James Woodhouse and B.M. Parham were booksellers and stationers of Richmond.
Notables on the first-year membership rolls include Haxall Crenshaw & Co., a flour mill along the canal locks (now called the Haxall Canal in downtown Richmond), and Thomas Branch & Co., which invested in real estate and railroads. The distinctive Branch house at 2501 Monument Ave. — deemed a National Historic Landmark in 1997 — was built for Branch’s son, financier John Kerr Branch, in 1916.
By the first annual meeting, members included Union Manufacturing Co., Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Co., Mutual Bank Fund and Savings Bank, the Insurance & Savings Co. of Virginia and Virginia Central Railroad Co.
Virginia Central Railroad ran 206 miles from Richmond to Covington from 1850 to 1868. It was merged in 1868 with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which operated for more than 100 years until it was blended in the 1980s into what is now called CSX Transportation. CSX, which maintains a rail yard here, moved its corporate headquarters in 2003 from Richmond to Jacksonville, Fla.
The list of first-year members reflects Richmond’s strong roots in banking, insurance, finance and tobacco — and the offshoots of those businesses over the last 150 years, said William “Bill” Martin, director of the Valentine, a museum dedicated to Richmond history.
Savings companies, for instance, have been replaced with home-grown banks and financial service companies, including McLean-based Capital One Financial Corp., the largest employer in the Richmond area.
Southern States Cooperative, a Richmond-based farmer-owned supply co-op, wasn’t founded until 1923. But Southern Fertilizing Co., which manufactured fertilizer for tobacco, wheat, oats and corn crops, was an original chamber member.
Richmond’s roots in insurance can be seen now in long-term care and life insurer Genworth Financial Inc. and specialty insurer Markel Corp., both based in Henrico County, Martin said. Genworth traces its history to the founding of the Life Insurance Company of Virginia in 1871.
Consider, too, Altria Group, parent company of Phillip Morris USA, Martin said. Its core business is tobacco, which was a major cash crop for Virginia and the genesis for Tobacco Row, a series of tobacco warehouses and cigarette factories in Richmond built in the 18th Century near the James River and Kanawha Canal.