The North Carolina Visitor Center





Cities and Towns in 

Click on the towns below to visit their websites


   Boiling Springs





   Mountain (part also  in Gaston County)




   Light Oak


   Patterson Springs




History of Cleveland County

Cleveland was formed in 1841 from Rutherford and Lincoln counties. It was named in honor of Colonel Benjamin Cleaveland, a noted partisan leader of the western Carolina frontier and one of the heroes at Kings Mountain. It is in the southwestern section of the state and is bounded by the state of South Carolina and Rutherford, Burke, Lincoln, and Gaston counties. The present land area is 464.63 square miles and the 2000 population was 96,287.

The first court was ordered to be held at the home of William Weathers. At this court the justices were to obtain a place to hold future courts until a courthouse was erected. Commissioners were named to acquire land and lay out a town by the name of Shelby where the courthouse and jail were to be located. In 1887, an act was passed changing the spelling of Cleveland from "Cleaveland county" to "Cleveland county." Shelby was incorporated in 1843 and is the county seat. 

Before Cleveland County was officially on any map, the area became well-known for several reasons. In October 1780, a pivotal battle that essentially halted the British advance into North Carolina was fought just to our south. The Kings Mountain National Military Park commemorates the Battle of Kings Mountain. In addition to our rich military history, the county is also known for cotton farms and successful textile mills and politics.

In 1841, Cleveland County was formed from the existing counties of Rutherford and Lincoln. The county's name was chosen in honor of Revolutionary War hero, Colonel Benjamin Cleaveland. The following year, in 1842, the county seat was established and named Shelby after another Battle of Kings Mountain hero, Colonel Isaac Shelby.

From the 1800s to the 1960s, Cleveland County’s primary form of subsistence was agriculture. Wheat, sweet potatoes, and oats were all grown in the area, but cotton was king. Cotton was so plentiful that in the 1940s, Cleveland County produced a larger yield per acre of cotton than any other county in the entire United States. During the height of cotton production, there were twenty-five textile plants located here. By the 1960s, manufacturing firms began to crop up with over 100 producing their goods in Cleveland County. In that same year, there were more than 125 grade “A” dairies and more than 400 farmers manufacturing milk. By 1980, manufacturing plants were becoming more diversified. Now, the county is still home to several farms and a few specialized textile plants, but the economy is largely made up of manufacturing firms, distribution centers, and small businesses.

Shelby was formed soon after the county was incorporated on land donated by William Forbes and James Love. Shelby became the center of Cleveland County’s government and the official county seat. The founders of Shelby named the main streets after Revolutionary War heroes Lafayette, Marion, Warren, DeKalb, Sumter, Morgan, and Graham. The picturesque courthouse, now serving as the Cleveland County Historical Museum, was built in 1907. The former court house still serves as the center of the uptown business district.

Originally a postal route named White Plains, Kings Mountain is the second-largest city in the county. The city was renamed in 1872 when a train depot was erected. Kings Mountain was named by the postmistress in honor of the Revolutionary battle fought a few miles away in South Carolina.

Along with the county seat of Shelby, and the city of Kings Mountain, Cleveland County also includes the towns of Belwood, Boiling Springs, Casar, Earl, Fallston, Grover, Kingstown, Lattimore, Lawndale, Mooresboro, Patterson Springs, Polkville, and Waco. All of these towns have their own rich history and unique personality.

Cleveland County has many well-known historical figures. For several years in the early to mid-1900s, many of North Carolina’s political leaders hailed from Shelby. The group, originally known as the “Shelby Ring” included O. Max Gardner, Clyde R. Hoey, Yates Webb, James L. Webb, and Otis M. Mull. Gardner served as governor from 1929 to 1933 and was the Ambassador to Great Britain. Hoey was North Carolina’s governor from 1937 to 1941 and a United States Senator from 1946 to 1955. Yates Webb became a federal judge after serving 26 years in Congress; his brother, James, was a Superior Court Judge. Mull served eight terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives. The time period is now known as the Shelby Dynasty.

Other notable natives include 1924 Pulitzer Prize winner Hatcher Hughes; Earl Scruggs, legendary bluegrass musician; NBA-great David Thompson; author W. J. Cash, novelist Thomas Dixon; and film producer Earl Owensby.

According to the authors of the book, "Architectural Perspectives of Cleveland County North Carolina," Cleveland County’s history can be read in its architecture. With the success of the county’s agriculture after the Civil War, many Victorian-style farm houses were constructed.

In 1907, Webbley, also known as the Governor O. Max Gardner House, was built in what is now uptown Shelby. The beautiful Classical Revival house was operated as a bed and breakfast for several years and is designated a National Historic Landmark. Other homes on the National Register of Historic Places include the Smith-Suttle House (Twin Chimneys), the Joshua Beam House, the Dr. Victor McBrayer House, and The Banker’s House in Shelby. The John Lattimore House in Polkville and the Irvin-Hamrick Log House near Boiling Springs are also on the National Register.

Additional buildings and areas included on the list are the Central Shelby Historic District, the Masonic Temple Building, the Cleveland County Courthouse (now the Cleveland County Historical Museum) and E.B. Hamrick Hall at Gardner-Webb University.

- Source: J.D. Lewis - Little River, SC

More Information

As of the census[2] of 2000, there were 96,287 people, 37,046 households, and 27,006 families residing in the county. The population density was 207 people per square mile (80/km²). There were 40,317 housing units at an average density of 87 per square mile (34/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 76.81% White, 20.93% Black or African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.69% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.68% from other races, and 0.72% from two or more races. 1.49% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 37,046 households out of which 32.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.00% were married couples living together, 13.70% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.10% were non-families. 23.60% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 2.98.

In the county the population was spread out with 25.20% under the age of 18, 8.80% from 18 to 24, 28.80% from 25 to 44, 23.70% from 45 to 64, and 13.50% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.60 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $35,283, and the median income for a family was $41,733. Males had a median income of $30,882 versus $21,995 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,395. About 10.10% of families and 13.30% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.90% of those under age 18 and 14.00% of those age 65 or over.