A BRIEF HISTORY OF CLEVELAND COUNTY
Reprinted From Cleveland County Sesquicentennial Booklet -1991
The 420 square miles of what is now Cleveland County was a wild wilderness in its beginning in 1729. Inhabitants were Cherokee and Catawba Indians and seminomadic people who visited the early white settlers who had come from England, Scotland, Germany, Ireland and France.
In the beginning the territory was Anson County and had been known and designated as a part of some eight district counties: Clarendon, 1729: New Hanover from Clarendon, 1729; Bladen from New Hanover, 1734: Anson from Bladen, 1749; Mecklenburg from Anson, 1752; Tryon from Mecklenburg, 1768; Rutherford and Lincoln from Tryon in 1779; Cleveland from Rutherford and Lincoln, 1841.
The county seats of Rutherford and Lincoln were far apart, prompting interest in formation of a new county. On September 22, 1836, a meeting was held at the home of John Teeter Beam, prosperous landowner and German immigrant, in the western end "of Lincoln County, who led the movement which culminated in Cleveland County. Opposition to the bill by legislators from eastern North Carolina twice rejected it before passing five years later.
On January 11,1841 a bill introduced by Dr. W.J.T Miller of Rutherford County to form the new county out of parts of Rutherford and Lincoln was passed. The bill provided that a county seat be located "not more than four miles from Wilson's Mineral Springs" (now Cleveland Springs) considered to be in the middle of the new county.
Cleveland County was named for Col. Benjamin Cleveland, a Patriot commander in the Battle of Kings Mountain, who was known as "The Terror of the Tories" and who was in command at the "turning point of the Revolution." A native of Prince William County, Va., the earlier spelling of his name, Cleaveland, was changed to Cleveland, the "a" dropped by an act of the General Assembly in 1887.
Col. Cleveland was a huge man, weighing 500 pounds and whose arms would not meet across his body. In his final years he was a curiosity to strangers and could dress only in loose garments. A special chair was built for him, mounted on rollers, which was his chair and his bed for nine years prior to his death in 1806.
James Y. Hamrick of Boiling Springs was the first elected representative to Raleigh in 1844, the trip requiring 13 days of travel on horseback. He died in 1848 during his second term. After the Civil War his grandson and namesake J.Y. Hamrick, served one term in the House and one term in the Senate and became Commissioner of Labor under the Republican administration of Gov. Dan Russell, becoming the first Clevelander to hold a state office.
History records that some of the earlier settlers in the new county bore the names of Hamrick, Hoyle, Beam, Spangler, Bridges, Cabiness, Green, Harrill, McSwain, Falls and Blanton.
On March 8, 1841, 30 magistrates met at the home of William Weathers in the Zion community to organize the county's first government, thus the Weathers home became the first courthouse. They selected a five-man Select Court composed of William Morris, chairman; John Tucker, Richard T Hord, Burrel B. Bridges and Edward Rippy. A.R. Homesley was elected clerk of court and first county offices elected by this court were sheriff Charles Blanton; county treasurer Joshua Beam; Young Bresanton, public buildings trustee; William H. Green, register; R.N. Herndon, solicitor; J.K. Wells, coroner. The present form of county Board of Commissioners was adopted in 1868.
Meantime, James Love offered the county 147 acres of land designating parcels for a courthouse and four churches. From the sale of parcels not allocated, the court used the proceeds to build a red brick courthouse and a County Home. Another tract of 50 acres of land was deeded to the city a few months earlier by William Forbes, mainly in the area of Shelby Middle School and Sunset Cemetery.
Shelby, named for Col. Isaac Shelby, Revolutionary War hero at the Battle of Kings Mountain, was declared the county seat in 1843 although many petitions and amendments delayed the charter until 1847.
James Love, John R. Logan and S.L. Gidney visited Washington D.C. and were so impressed with the wide streets they decided to use the same pattern for Shelby. Logan, an engineer, was appointed to survey and lay out the wide streets. His surveying instrument can be seen in the rotunda of the County Museum where it is permanently displayed. It was decided also to name the main streets from Revolutionary War heroes: Warren, Washington, Lafayette, Marion, DeKalb, Sumter, Morgan and Graham. The earliest boundary was a circle a quarter of a mile from the center of the courthouse, later enlarged to a mile and a half and in 1925 to a three-mile diameter. Paved sidewalks became a reality in 1909; a $35,000 bond issue for school buildings and a $115,000 bond issue for Shelby's first water plant. First electricity was supplied by a small power dam at Laurel Mill on First Broad River. Cleveland Savings Bank was organized in 1875, eliminating handicaps in financial dealings.
Early mayors included W.P. Love, Frederick Hoke, G.L. Gidney, J.N. Durham, Joe Bostic, W.H. Jennings, J.T. Gardner, Crawford Durham, James L. Webb, Will Dameron, J.L. Suttle, T.W. Hamrick, Paul Webb, C.B. McBrayer, S.A. McMurry and Harry Woodson.
The second largest city in the county, Kings Mountain, was chartered in 1874 and is known for the historic Kings Mountain Military Park and the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. It was originally known as White Plains and earliest settlers were of Scotch-Irish and Penn. Dutch pioneers. The county's first railroads ran through the city, from Charlotte to Atlanta (Southern) bringing new industries in 1870-72. The area has been known for its
mineral wealth, including limestone, mica, kaolin, iron, tin, lithium, spodumene and especially gold, mined even before the town was chartered and bringing in an influx of promoters. More importantly, the city is also known for its textile industries, the first cotton mill built by Capt. Freno Dilling and the outstanding Mauney brothers, Jacob A. and W. Andrew, in 1888, plus the Neislers, to name a few. Because the city grew into Gaston County with its bustling industries, confusion on legal and tax matters arose and a new county line, under an act of the 1915 legislature put the city wholly in Cleveland County.
A.P. and M.M. Carpenter, brothers, opened a mercantile store in 1874 and about the same time P.S. Baker and Jacob McGinnis built a store nearby. W.A. Mauney was the first elected mayor and Kings Mountain was the first town in North Carolina to prohibit the sale of spiritious liquors. The first charter issued to a bank in the county was to First National Bank of Kings Mountain in 1900.
There have been four courthouses: first the William Weathers home in the Zion community; a brick structure erected in 1845 contained many flaws in construction which did not meet specifications. It was replaced in 1907 with a limestone structure with handsome Corinthian columns on all four sides and one of the handsomest in the state. Space became inadequate and a new complex called the Cleveland County Courthouse-Law Enforcement Center opened in 1974. The new building has outgrown its space and is currently being enlarged. The handsome limestone building "on the square" is now the Cleveland County Historical Museum. The structure is listed in the National Register of Historic Sites.
Cleveland County has always answered the call to wars, beginning with the Revolutionary War when at least 36 lost their lives. Following the Cherokee War with the Indians in 1838 was the disastrous Civil War (1861-65) when the county furnished 2,035 troops from a population of 12,384. More than 100 served in the Spanish-American War and approximately 100 in World War I which claimed 31 lives. In World War II, 192 gave their lives. Many were involved in the Vietnam and Korean Wars and many of our men served in the Persian Gulf crisis.
Early settlers endured crude living conditions, made beds of oak leaves, ate from wood carved tableware, utilized hides and furs from animals. The War Between the States carved an economic and social backset for half a century, claiming hundreds of lives, maiming young and old. Women and children suffered the torture oi deprivation and hunger. Immediately after the war 150 Union soldiers came to Shelby and took possession of the county court square, causing agony as late as 1872.
The terrible days bf reconstruction also saw creation of the Ku Klux Klan, racial and political tensions. In addition to whipping posts for punishing law breakers, the branding iron was used with the letter "M" signifying murder. Also, public floggings and hangings were modes of punishment.
CLEVELAND COUNTY: People and Places - a book review
CLEVELAND COUNTY: A National Register of Historic Places
Battle of Kings Mountain
Kings Mountain National Military Park
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
SHELBY, NORTH CAROLINA - A Brief History
SHELBY, NORTH CAROLINA - A National Register of Historic Places
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