I had booked a really nice Airbnb room from a older woman named Mirna in a nice housing subdivision for a month in Dallas, North Carolina, a little town outside Gastonia. She was originally from Hondorus and came to the United States as a young girl at the age of 13. Her husband passed away a few years prior and so she rents out one of the spare rooms for extra income. It was a large room with a King size bed, a chair and foot stool to sit on and my own private bathroom. We shared the kitchen and she gave me a couple of shelves in the fridge to use for my personal food. I also had rented a car for a month, so one of the weekends I was staying there I decided to take a road trip. We were in the midst of the COVID-19 panademic and so many places were closed so about the only thing I could do was siteseeing in nature and viewing places from outside among some of the towns I passed through.
One of the things I have really enjoyed about North Carolina is the history. So I hope you won’t be too bored but as I made this trip and passed through several small towns with all their history, which was and is the making of our great country I am sharing what I saw and learned with……. you my readers.
I left Dallas, North Carolina traveling on Hwy 74 to the town of Shelby…………In 1841, Cleveland County was named for Colonel Benjamin Cleveland who was a Revolutionary War hero at the Battle of Kings Mountain. In 1842, the county seat was established and named after Colonel Isaac Shelby who was also a war hero at the Battle of Kings Mountain. James Love and William Forbes donated land for the city. James Love had visited Washington D.C., and liked the design with the wide streets. He asked the city planners to adapt the same ideas for Shelby. Shelby’s main streets are named for Revolutionary War heroes. Shelby was home to several important political leaders in the first half of the 20th century. A powerful group know as “The Shelby Dynasty” that included two brothers James and Edwin Yates Webb, Oits Mull, Max Gardner who was elected to governor in 1928 and Clyde R. Hoey also elected governor in 1936. Shelby is also the birthplace of country music legends Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson.
James L. Webb began his career in government as a state Senator, then in 1882, he served as District Solicitor, and in 1894 was appointed as a Superior Court Judge. Edwin Yates Webb, James’s younger brother, served in the State General Assembly and then moved to Washington, D.C. were he served as Congressman for North Carolina’s Ninth District for 26 years. He became Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and his legislative efforts included helping draft the constitutional amendment for prohibition, introduced the bill to charter the Boy Scouts of America, promoting regulations for food and drugs and co-authoring an antitrust bill. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Edwin Webb as a Federal Judge. He served in that capacity for 28 years.
Although Otis Mull did not hold any major public office like the others did, he was still an influential figure in state politics. He served six terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives–one as speaker of the North Carolina House–and he was Chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee for six years.
The Webbley House
Shelby has a rich historical district and is home to one of the most historical residences in the state. Webbley, also known as the O. Max Gardner House, was built sometime around 1852 to 1855. The original house was two-stories and is an example of the grandeur and grace of the old south’s architecture. Augustus W. Burton was the builder and original owner of the house. He sold it shortly thereafter and it changed ownership many times over the next 50 years. In 1905 J.A. Anthony a prominent local attorney bought the house and along with his wife, Ollie Gardner Anthony, did a drastic renovation to the house. The Colonial Revival drastically changed the appearance of the house to what it looks like today. They also added on to the house increasing its size from the original construction done in the 1850s. Anthony’s brother in-law and business partner was Oliver Maxwell Gardner, who had married into the politically influential Webb family. Gardner not only was a lawyer but he also owned a farm. Gardner’s father-in-law, Judge James L. Webb bought the house from Anthony. He moved his family and the Gardners in, and the locals quickly started calling the house Webbley. Webbley remained in the family and in 1993 O. Max Gardner III and his wife, Victoria Harwell Gardner, turned the home into a bed and breakfast with a political theme. The Inn at Webbly was one of the nation’s finest inns, but closed in 1998 due to an illness in the family which made operation of the inn difficult and the house was converted back to private use. Another interesting fact is that Thomas Dixon used Webbley as inspiration in his 1905 novel, The Clansman. The home was also used as a real life model in the movie based on the novel, Birth of a Nation in 1915.
When I visited it was not open to visit so I could only view from the outside and walk around the property. It appeared to me that no one lived there and was in need of some fixing up as it was looking a bit dilapidated.
THE CLEVELAND COUNTY COURTHOUSE
The centerpiece of Shelby is the Cleveland County Courthouse, with its Neo-Classsical Revival design in a park-like setting was built in 1907 at the cost of $75,000. The North Carolina General Assembly created Cleveland County from parts of Rutherford and Lincoln counties in 1841. Before the first courthouse was built, court was held on the second floor of Williams Weather’s home southwest of Shelby. Courthouse Square became the site of the county government once the first courthouse, a log building, was erected here in 1842. In 1844, a committee was appointed to draft plans for a formal courthouse. A contract was awarded to George Smith to construct a red brick courthouse, that was completed in 1874. This courthouse was then replaced by the limestone building standing on Courthouse Square today. In front of the courthouse, facing Lafayette Street, is the Statue for the Confederate Heroes of Cleveland County dedicated on November 21, 1906. In 1974, the county court moved to the law enforcement center and in 1976 this building became home to the Cleveland County Historical Museum which closed in 2004 and became home to the Earl Scruggs Center in January 2014. The museum focuses on both the life of local musician Earl Scruggs and the music, history and culture of the American South. The museum also hosts concerts and music lectures.
Earl Scruggs Center
January 6, 1927 – March 28, 2012
Earl Scruggs was born in the Flint Hill community of Cleveland County, North Carolina. Here he learned a love for music and perfected the “Scruggs Style,” a distinctive three-finger style of playing the banjo.
Earl’s debut at the Ryman Auditorium led to the birth of Bluegrass and revolutionized the banjo across many musical genres. His work with guitar player Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys put Bluegrass in homes all around the world. Later, he formed the Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons, and continued to innovate, push musical boundaries, and reach a new audience of music lovers and fans.
Earl Scruggs left a mark on every project and person he touched throughout his legendary life and career. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, received four Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a National Heritage Fellowship. His legacy continues to influence countless musicians and music fans today.
When I was here so many things were closed because of COVID-19 so I was not able to tour the museum. I really enjoy museums and all the things one can learn from them, so I was bummed that I missed out on this opportutiny. From my research on the internet the museum is full of historical information about Earl Scruggs and the area. It is a simple museum that is a great tribute to a man who had a significant influence on music.
Shelby Cotton Mill
As I was driving around town I came upon this warehouse…..I knew it had to be some manfucaturing plant that had closed down years ago as evidence of overgrowth and vines growing up the walls, and the decay. There were no signs or markers indicating what this building/business used to be. I later was googling the town of Shelby and actually found only one pretty good source that told the story of this cotton mill.
The textile industry in Cleveland County, North Carolina was a major economic asset during the 1900s. The county had over 25 textiles mills and was the leading producer of cotton in the country, with over 80,000 bales in a year. One of the mills was the Shelby Cotton Mill. The first part of the mill was completed in April of 1900.
The first expansion of the mill was added in 1901 to accommodate for the 8,784 ring spindles, 250 broad looms, and 14 carding machines which were required for the rapidly growing industry. This expansion doubled the equipment previously at the mill. Another wing was added to the growing building in 1909.
By 1916, the company had 250 employees. Additional office buildings and other structures behind it were built in 1920. The mill remained one of the largest manufacturers through the early 1920s with materials such as yarn and “pajama check,” a lightwaieght gighman or plaid woven cloth.
The next Shelby Cotton Mill expansion was in 1938. The finishing room was added during the 1950s. Two years prior in 1948, Cleveland County produced 83,549 bales of cotton for the year, turning it into one of North Carolina’s leading textile producers and the premier county for cotton production in the state.
The building was finished in the 1970s, after having gone through more than 15 expansions and renovations. In the 1950s, droughts, insect infestations, and government acreage controls resulted in the decline of cotton as Cleveland County’s primary crop. By 1975, the county was producing a mere 1,934 bales of cotton, compared to the peak of more than 83,000 bales. The decline in cotton was accompanied by a shift away from textile manufacturing in the city as competition from foreign exporters combined with Shelby’s inability to compete with larger, more modern mills. Many of the mills are still standing today, one of which is the Shelby Cotton Mill, but few are still in operation. Cleveland County has remained an agricultural environment supported by cash grains like corn and soybeans. You can still drive through and see cotton fields.
Shelby High School
Shelby High School was built in 1937 with assitance from the Works Progress Administration, a depression-era Federal Relief Program. The school was designed by a local firm of V.M Breeze who designed most of the significient commerical and institutional buildings in Shelby from the 1930’s through WWII. This building served as Shelby High School for almost 25 years. It looks like now it is used for the school district adminstrative offices. Breezes design for the high school was a blend of classical and modern elements. The 2-story building with a concrete basement contains large classrooms on all three levels. Like many schools designed during this time period, the entryway is recessed and flanked by fluted pilasters. A concrete panel above the entrance is inscribed with the initials SHS.
Irvin-Hamrick Log Home
The Irvin-Hamrick log home is located about 10 miles outside of town set back off a two lane country road in the woods. It is easy to miss and I actually did drive past it and had to turn around. The home is a small dwelling of half-dovetail notch construction, a type of building which once thousands of small farmers in Piedmont and Western North Carolina used to build their homes. This log home is a rare surviving example of the type of house most North Carolinianas lived induring the 18th and early 19th centuries, and this is one of the few that has seen consisent maintenance and the hope of continued preservation. The small rectangular gable roof house is built of hewn logs joined with half-doved notches, the dominant corner-timbering method in Western North Carolina for many generations. Weather boards cover the logs in several sections and the the entire house may have been covered at one time. One fireplace warmed the two interior rooms, and a small enclosed stairway that lead to an unfinished attic. James Irvin, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, proably built the house sometime after his purchase of 200 acres along Beauerdam creek in 1794. Irvin married Rebecca Hardin of Lincoln County, and the couple raised 10 children in the tiny house-five boys and five girls, providing for them through land deals and working farms. After Irvins death in 1845, the house and land passed to his children, who sold the property to Cameron Street Hamrick in 1850. Hamrick and his wife, Elmire Bridges raised 6 sons in the house. Hamerick was a disciplinarian who believed his sons should remain in the home until the age of 21 and consquently, the fmaily added to the present frame rear addition sometime after the civil war. All of the Hamericks sons raised large families and their descndants remain in great numbers in the Cleveland County and neighboring areas of the Western Piedmont of North & South Carolina. The house has never left Hamrick ownership. In 1951 it was acquired by the Cameron Street Hamrick Memorial Association, a family organization dedicated to the preservation of the homestead and the maintenance of the adjacent family cemetery. An annual Cameron Street Reunion is held at the house each year, the 4th Sunday in August.
The Rogers Theatre Block has been a center of cultural, social and political activity for Shelby and Cleveland County since its construction in the late 1930s. Named for its original owner, Robert Hamer Rogers, the theater first opened in 1936 showing Love on the Run starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. Built in sections through the early 1940s, the theater’s grey limestone façade exhibits Art Deco details and is the only example of this popular 20th-century architectural style in Shelby. Considered one of North Carolina’s finest historic theaters, it is now an historic building. The theater has been little altered, still retaining its original marquee and a signage mast above which reads “theatre” that was an early addition to the theater. The 1,000-seat theater was constructed with a working vaudeville stage, as this type of traveling entertainment was still very popular in the western part of North Carolina at the time of its construction. Between movies, live acts took the stage. The Rogers Theatre held live performances and showed films well into the 1980s. In the mid-1980s famous North Carolina movie producer Early Owensby used the building to showcase many of his productions. In 1985 Rogers Theatre closed. In 1999 the Rogers Theatre Consortium formed to lead the effort to restore the building and to bring back an important film and performing arts center. The National Trust for Historic Preservation singled out the Rogers Theatre in 2001 when it was included on its “11 Most Endangered Properties” list, as one of the country’s threatened independent movie theaters, and designated the theater as an official project of the “Save America’s Treasures” program. Although there have been groups and moves to restore the theatre, it awaits a new owner who will hopefully one day bring it back to its former glory.
Rogers Theatre when I visited in May 2020
Don Gibson Theatre
Originally known as “The State Theatre”, opened its doors as the area’s most beautiful movie house on October 27th, 1939. The local paper praised it as “one of the most strikingly beautiful building fronts of the modern day”
“The State” was a typical popular small town movie theatre, but in its later years (as The Flick) it encountered the same challenges that befell literally thousands of such film houses around the country. Retail stores moved to the malls along the highway… downtowns dried up, cable TV became a more dominant force in our lives and so many movie theatres went under…..But thanks to a dedicated team of passionate volunteers, a group called Destination Cleveland County was formed just a few years ago and it’s thanks to them this old movie house is coming back to life after having been dark for almost three decades.
The renovated theatre is now the “Don Gibson Theatre”, this 400 seat venue is primarily a very intimate concert hall. Their vision is to bringing the best in touring nationally known acts and musicians who have graced magazine covers, earned Grammy Awards and Gold Albums and “Best of the Year” Awards… people whose CD’s (and albums) you may already have in your collection. They plan to very carefully select the newest up-and-coming acts out of Nashville,d New York and Austin…..acts you may not have heard of yet.
So who is Don Gibson? Don Gibson along with a few others changed the sound of Nashville and country music. Even outside of country music circles several of his songs are instantly recognized by fans and musicians all across the globe, and across almost five decades of music cultural change. Don was one of the most influential forces in the country music industry from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Many remember Don’s two best known compositions, Sweet Dreams which became one of Patsy Cline’s most biggest hits, and the Ray Charles classic single I Can’t Stop Loving You, both were chart-crossing smash hits that shattered stereotypes.
Don’s third unforgettable country classic, Oh, Lonesome Me original recording was a revolutionary single for its day, as Don and producer Chet Atkins dropped the traditional fiddle and steel guitar for a new and more aggressive sound that featured multiple guitars, a piano, a drummer, upright bass and background singers. Although it doesn’t sound like a radical move today, it was then, and Don and Chet are given credit for having helped what became known as the Nashville Sound. Don’s recording of Oh Lonesome Me hit #1 on the national charts and stayed there for eight weeks, an almost unheard of feat in that era.
Don Gibson was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973, an honor he shares with Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffet and Johnny Cash. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Don Gisbon passed away in 2003, but he left behind a musical legacy that has touched the hearts of millions.
Central United Methodist Church
Central United Methodist Church is the oldest church in Shelby. In 1841 when Cleveland County was formed James Love and his wife Susan gave 147 acres that is now the heart of Shelby. William Forbes who later become a member of the church congregation, gave 50 acres to make up the western section of the city. The two gifts of land provided for schools, a city hall, court square, and a building lot for all recognized denominations – Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist.
By March of 1845, when Cleveland County was just four years old, the 25 member congregation needed a place to meet, so Dr. Thomas Williams, who was a Baptist let the group meet in his office. By summer the group moved into their first church, a one-room wooden structure. By 1878 the congregation had grown larger and needed a bigger meeting house, so the one-room wooden church was sold for $450 to start their funds for a new building. In 1884 their new building was completed but had no plumbing or water as these were not available to the city of Shelby until 1908 which was also when they added Sunday School classrooms. In 1922 the pastor at the time, Rev. Edgar Poovey decided it was time to build a new church after they started to have problems with the furnace and serveral other needed repairs. On January 11, 1925 the building that is standing today held its first sermon in the new building and became know as the Central Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
During the 1930’s, one of Central’s Sunday School classes became widely known throughout the state. Its teacher was Clyde R. Hoey, who later became governor of Noth Carolina. The class membership exceeded 300 men, meeting in the “south pasture” where the present class still meets every Sunday morning as the Hoey Bible Class.
By the late 60’s a new Education Building was badly needed, and work was begun. The new building was dedicated in 1968.
First Baptist Church
I love the old churches and their beautiful architecture intrigues me, so as I was driving around the town of Shelby I happened upon the First Baptist Church. The first organized church began with 25 members on June 19, 1847. The church declined an offer of land from the county and instead paid $300 for the 130 foot square plot of land on North Lafayette Street on which the present church stands today. The first building constructed at this site was a white frame church. The Baptists became the largest and most influential denomination in Shelby. Reverend James Webb, of Shelby’s influential Webb family, was the first pastor. Shelby’s early families–the Loves, Blantons, Webbs and Gardners were all members of the congregation. In 1889, a brick church replaced the originial building, but the congregation soon became unhappy with its poor construction. In April 1904, an additional lot was purchased and the first of several additions were added.
The 1911 Gothic Revival church is the third Baptist church at this site. It is considered the most elaborate church in Shelby. The use of yellow brick for the church was a major change from the red brick that had been used since the 1880s for most of Shelby’s commercial and industrial buildings. It’s Tiffany stained glass windows were bought for $1,300 from George Hardy Payned of Petterson, New Jersey. The church’s three steeples rising from the top towers are prominent architectural features of the building.
Shelby City Hall
Shelby City Hall was constructed in 1939 also with assistance from the Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era Federal relief program. This Georgian Revival 15,700-square-foot building was built in three sections, the two-story center section is set at an angle to the corner of East Graham and South Washington streets housed the city offices. Hyphens connected the central section to two one-story wings. The public library was originally located in the wing to the south, while the police and fire departments were housed in the west wing. Distinguishing features of the building include the octagonal cupola with arched openings and dome, and the scrolled pediment with central urn above the main entrance. Interior elements include marble floors, brass handrail, intricate wooden detail ceiling moldings and trim which all reflects the status Shelby enjoyed during this period.
Here are just some other miscellaneous pictures out and around Shelby, North Carolina