Gaston County (1846)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Gaston County, founded in 1846, was named for William Gatson, a Congressman and North Carolina Supreme Court justice. A southwestern county that borders Mecklenburg and South Carolina, Gaston covers approximately 350 square miles. The original commissioners of the county were ordered to establish a county seat within two miles of the Long Creek Baptist Meeting House, and they named the seat Dallas, in honor of Vice President George Dallas. Yet, a popular 1911 vote made Gastonia the county seat. Bessemer City, Cherryville, High Shoals, Lowell, McAdenville, Ranlo, Stanley, Spencer, and Mount Holly are other communities within the boundaries of Gaston County.

The Catawba and Cherokee were the first inhabitants of the present Gaston region. By the mid-1700s, however, the German, Dutch, English, and Scotch-Irish immigrants had moved into the area. The Indian tribes were troubled by the wave of white immigrants, and several skirmishes ensued between the Cherokee and the Europeans. James Kuykendall, along with several other settlers, built a fort at the junction between Catawba and South Fork Rivers, but it was never attacked. By the 1770s most of the Cherokee had left, and the Catawba moved to a Fort Mill, South Carolina, to live on a reservation.

In 1750, Captain Samuel Corbin was one of the first settlers to receive a farming grant. After Corbin had accepted his grant, families began to establish themselves, and soon subsistence farms scattered the landscape. However, these farms were not productive, and corn was the only crop to thrive in Gaston County, along with its whiskey by-product. By 1870, Gaston County had earned its trademark as the “Banner Corn Whiskey County of Carolina.”

After decades of self-sufficient farming, the industrialization wave changed Gaston County forever, and textiles became the area’s true breadwinner. From 1845 to 1848, three cotton mills were founded: the Mountain Island Mill, the South Fork River and McAdenville Mill, and the Stowesville Mill. However, in 1929 the largest textile labor dispute in North Carolina occurred at the Loray Mill in Gastonia. The violent outburst resulted in only two deaths, but the people of Gastonia were intent on forgetting the strike. Despite the Loray Mill strike, Gaston County enjoyed continued economic textile industry growth, and it remains the top county in cotton consumption and in the number of operating spindles. Also, Gaston County has more cotton mills than any other county in the state, and Firestone’s factory in Gastonia is considered by some historians to be the “largest textile plant under one roof in the world.”