Cleveland County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2010)



Benjamin Cleveland


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1750s / From Anson County

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes

Coming Later

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Airports in Cleveland County

Maps of Cleveland County

Books About Cleveland County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Cleveland County

Metcalf Station - Lawndale, North Carolina

Cleveland County was formed in 1841 from Rutherford and Lincoln counties. It was named in honor of Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, a noted Patriot leader of the western North Carolina frontier and one of the heroes at the battle of Kings Mountain, SC. 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 2010 population was 98,078.

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 court house was erected. Commissioners were named to acquire land and lay out a town by the name of Shelby where the court house 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 has been the county seat ever since. 

Before Cleveland County was officially on any map, the area became well-known for several reasons. In October of 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 Cleveland of Wilkes County. The following year, in 1842, the county seat was established and named Shelby after another battle of Kings Mountain hero, Colonel Isaac Shelby of Sullivan County, which is now in Tennessee.

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 court house, 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 Oliver Maxwell Gardner, Clyde Roark 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 Court House (now the Cleveland County Historical Museum) and E.B. Hamrick Hall at Gardner-Webb University.

© 2019 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved