After a ceremony Friday in which a historic marker honoring John Armstrong Chaloner was unveiled at Chaloner Middle School, Roanoke Rapids City Council presented a proclamation to the woman who began the effort to honor the industrialist.
Mayor Emery Doughtie presented Florine Bell with the proclamation which recognizes Chaloner as a founding member of Roanoke River’s Old Town and renamed it Roanoke Rapids, “achieving the title of ‘god father’ of Roanoke Rapids.”
The document recognized that Chaloner and his brother Winthrop Chanler contributed to the completion of the Roanoke Canal’s Water Power Manufacturing and Improvement Company to build the town’s first electric power-generating station and that Chaloner’s United Industrial Company of New York built Roanoke Rapids’ first manufacturing knitting mill in 1895, employing 100 people.
He also built a hotel, stable, and homes for his millworkers which created “a pattern for other future industrialists who would follow his lead.”
He also contributed to forming and building the Methodist, Baptist and Episcopalian churches; and established night schools for adults and contributed 10 acres of land in 1912 to build the first school in Roanoke Rapids for African-American children.
The new school — John A. Chaloner — opened in 1924 and became Chaloner Middle School in 1970.
Bell thanked Councilman Rex Stainback in his efforts to get the project underway.
She said with Chaloner’s great nephew and great-great nephew in attendance at the ceremony Friday, it marked the first time in 100 years the family had attended an event in Roanoke Rapids.
On his contributions to the city, Bell said, “These investments became the predecessor and the bedrock of the Rosemary Mill, Dominion Power and (the former) Kapstone paper mill operations.”
Bell said, “Whereas the Prodigal Son decided to frivolously spend his inheritance, Chaloner, a young man too, chose to go south, spending millions of dollars building communities for the welfare of all and mainly the destitute.”
Bell closed by thanking Doughtie and the city making history “by becoming the first of Roanoke Rapids city officials to officially recognize Chaloner’s presence in the Roanoke Valley and the contributions he made to improving the quality of our lives during a time of awful uncertainty.”