By Scott Robertson
Congratulations are due the city of Kingsport, particularly its business community, on the centennial of the city charter, signed by Governor Tom C. Rye on March 2, 1917. We specify the business community because Kingsport is a city created by businessmen with specific community aims and goals in mind.
Between 1910 and 1915, executives of the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway had the foresight to commission studies of the natural resources in the area of “the long island of the Holston River” and found it could easily support manufacturing plants for several complementary industries, all of which would need rail service to deliver product to outside markets.
Those executives provided the vision upon which Kingsport was built. George L. Carter, John B. Dennis and J. Fred Johnson were all instrumental in creating an industry-based community.
This issue of The Business Journal includes an article reprinted from the special Kingsport 100 publication our company, Derby Publishing, produced to tell the story of Kingsport’s first century from a business perspective.
Our involvement in the centennial began a little over a year ago when former Alderman Ken Maness and I were having a friendly conversation at the 2016 Kingsport Chamber dinner. I mentioned a centennial publication our company had produced for the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and Ken got a little gleam in his eye. “You know, Scott,” he said, “Kingsport’s centennial is in 2017. I don’t know if that might be an opportunity for you folks or not.”
If you know Ken, you know that means, “this is a darn fine opportunity for you folks, and if you don’t pick up the ball and run with it, you’re a dang fool.”
We may yet be proven to be dang fools, but it won’t be because we didn’t do all we could on the centennial effort.
It’s been a wonderful project on which to work. The research for this publication took a little less than a year. Along the way, we received invaluable assistance from Brianne Wright at the Archives of the City of Kingsport, the Archives of Appalachia, the Rotary Club of Kingsport, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and the PEAK Young Professionals organization, among others.
As you can well imagine, editing a century’s worth of business activity in a place as dynamic as Kingsport could be a daunting task, so from the start, we set a few priorities.
We concentrated on telling the story of the birth of Kingsport as an industrial city – the intent of first George Carter, then John B. Dennis and J. Fred Johnson and the faithfulness with which that intent was carried out.
Second, we wanted to tell more recent stories that showed Kingsport business leaders coming together with leaders in government, the chamber and the community to make the city better than it had been – stories like the creation of MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center, and of the downtown academic village – stories that showed that even though Carter, Dennis and Johnson had passed on, Kingsport still saw the pursuit of excellence through the lens of a community vision.
And third, we wanted to show businesses today, both the major employers still succeeding in the industries on which the city was founded – and the small businesses that were founded a century or more ago that have thrived in this community throughout its history, businesses like Armstrong Construction, Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Home and Hunter Smith & Davis.
Finally, we knew that with the imprimatur of the city and of the centennial commission on our work, the publication needed to stand alone, as a unique monument to those who have come before, and hopefully, in some small part, as an inspiration to those who will come after.
So we set out to chronicle what J. Fred Johnson talked about in the forward to a book published by the Rotary Club of which he was a member:
“Were I to undertake to define the spirit underlying every step in the growth and development of Kingsport, from the days of its humblest beginnings until now, I could not avoid the assertion that the spirit, if it be a spirit, is one of mutual helpfulness and a willingness to submerge selfish interests beneath the individual effort to assure the greater good for the greater number. Rotary has a slogan ‘Service above Self – he profits most who serves best.’ Without attempting to eulogize, it is my firm conviction that those words truly epitomize what may be said to be the spirit of Kingsport.”
It’s a fine way for us all to do business, no matter where we live and work, and given 100 years, I don’t think any of us could have said it any better than Johnson did.
In these last 100 years, the business community of Kingsport has given us many examples of that spirit. It has been both a pleasure and an honor to chronicle just a few.
Copies of the special issue are available from the city and from the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.