Gaston County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2010)



William Gaston


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1740s / Virginians and Charlestonians

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

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Coming Later

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Airports in Gaston County

Maps of Gaston County

Books About Gaston County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Gaston County

Gaston County was formed in 1846 from Lincoln County. It was named in honor of William Gaston, a member of the North Carolina House of Commons, North Carolina Senate, U.S. Congress, and a Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. It is in the southwestern section of the state and is bounded by the state of South Carolina and Cleveland, Lincoln, and Mecklenburg counties. The present land area is 356.21 square miles and the 2010 population was 206,086.

The court was ordered to be held at the home of Jesse Holland until a court house could be erected. Commissioners were named to select a site for the county seat as near the center of the county as possible provided it was within two miles of Long Creek Baptist Meeting House. They were to acquire land, lay out a town by the name of Dallas, and erect a court house. Dallas continued to be the county seat until 1909, when Gastonia was, by popular vote, selected as the county seat. 

Belmont Abbey - Belmont, North Carolina

Belmont Abbey is a monastery of about twenty men, founded in 1876. Its members pray and work together according to the teachings of the Gospel and the wisdom of Saint Benedict. The Abbey is situated on a 700-acre campus in Belmont, North Carolina. While it is positioned near the conveniences of urban life, it has preserved the benefits of its somewhat removed location, which helps buffer it from the distractions of ordinary life. Saint Benedict says that monks' good works should be practiced in the environment of the monastery; thus the life and labors at Belmont are centered upon the Abbey campus.

Gaston County is located in the south-central piedmont section of North Carolina. It is bounded on the east by the Catawba River and Mecklenburg County, on the west by Cleveland County, on the north by Lincoln County and on the south by York County, South Carolina. Gaston was formed from a lower portion of Lincoln County in 1846.

Gaston County is one of one hundred counties created by the North Carolina State Legislature. It ranks 74th in size consisting of approximately 364.5 square miles, and is seventh in population with approximately 190,000 people recorded during the 2000 Census. The county has fifteen incorporated towns.

The topography of the county is gently rolling to hilly, with several pronounced ridges, including Kings Mountain Pinnacle, Spencer Mountain , Jackson 's Knob, Paysour Mountain, and Crowders Mountain. Elevations above sea-level in Gaston County range from 587 feet in the southeast corner to 1,705 feet at the Pinnacle of the Kings Mountain ridge in the southwest. The average elevation is estimated at 825 feet.

The county has a temperate climate characterized by moderate temperature variations and moderate humidity. The average temperature is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, ranging from an average winter temperature of 43 degrees to a summer average of 78 degrees. The average annual precipitation is 44 inches, and the average relative humidity is 54 percent. The primary components of the drainage system in Gaston County are the Catawba River with the South Fork River as its major tributary.

The early settlers of Gaston County were principally Scots-Irish, Pennsylvania Dutch (German Lutherans and Reformed), and English. Upon their arrival, they found a few Catawba Indians remaining, but this tribe soon moved to South Carolina . In anticipation of an attack by the Cherokees, who were then engaged in border warfare, a fort was constructed at the junction of the Catawba and South Fork Rivers. Relations were maintained with the few Indians in the area, and there is no indication that the fort was ever necessary.

Early Gaston County never knew the agricultural prosperity which some of the other counties of the state enjoyed. Normally, the small farms were self-sufficient, but the crop yield was relatively low. Corn, one of the more abundant and prosperous crops, was quickly converted into whiskey by one of the forty-eight licensed distilleries in the County. By 1870, Gaston County was known as the "Banner Corn Whiskey County of Carolina." In addition to distilleries, mines in various parts of the county yielded in varying quantities - gold, lime, sulfur, tin, and iron. Furnaces for smelting ore were founded early around Mount Holly, Bessemer City, and High Shoals.

Between 1845 and 1848, the industrial boom in Gaston County had its origin. During this three-year period, the first three cotton mills in the county were established. Some authorities say that the first one was established by Thomas R. Tate on Mountain Island, the present site of Duke Power Company's Mount Holly steam plant. Other sources say that the first mill was established by the Linebergers and others on the South Fork River near McAdenville. Most sources agree that among the first three mills in operation in the county was the Stowesville Mill, founded by Jasper Stowe and Associates in the Point Section of Belmont. Gaston County still leads all other counties in the country both in the number of spindles in operation and in the number of bales of cotton consumed.

Today Gaston County enjoys a diverse industrial base with over 4,000 businesses employing nearly 95,000 workers. 33% of the employment is in the service sector, 26% in manufacturing, 23% in retail and wholesale trade, and 12% in government.

Public utilities serving the Gaston County area include Duke Power, Plantation Pipe Line Company, Public Service Company of North Carolina, and Bell South.

The Gaston County public school system is the sixth largest in the state with an enrollment of more than 32,000 students. It is a consolidated system which assures the same quality education for all students both urban and rural. The school system includes special programs, which are available for exceptional students as well as for the handicapped and the learning disabled.

Institutions of higher education in the county include Gaston College, a county-supported community college and Belmont Abbey College, a private four-year institution.

Gaston County supports one of the most modern hospital facilities in the entire region, Gaston Memorial Hospital, Inc., in Gastonia . This 479-bed facility has an excellent staff of medical personnel and is equipped with the latest technological equipment. All rooms are private and are designed for maximum patient comfort and convenience.

Gaston County was created on December 21, 1846, by the North Carolina State General Assembly to promote the public health, safety, and welfare and to secure the peace and dignity of the county. The area which comprises Gaston County was formerly a part of Lincoln County . The county was named for the Honorable William Gaston, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Dallas was the original county seat and held that title until 1909 when a third attempt to move the county seat to Gastonia was finally successful. Gastonia has maintained the title ever since.

Until 1868, like other counties, Gaston was governed by a Justice of the Peace. This was the traditional form of English county government. The justice was appointed by the governor and met four times a year at the county court house to manage the affairs of the county. They levied taxes, built the court house and the jail, cared for the sick and poor, built roads, and held court to settle disputes and punish lawbreakers.

Under the North Carolina Constitution of 1868, the Board of County Commissioners replaced the justices of the peace as the governing body of the county. Each county had a board of five commissioners elected by the voters of the entire county. Each commissioner serves a two-year term.

Since Gaston County's inception in 1846, it has experienced innumerable changes in its election of commissioners to serve and in the responsibilities of the commissioners. An example of a responsibility change is that of road construction. Prior to 1931, the repair of county roads was the duty of the county board of commissioners. However, in 1931, the State General Assembly transferred these responsibilities to the Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation today has final authority on road matters, and the County Board of Commissioners serves only in an advisory role.

Because of all the changes that have occurred in county government over the years, the focus from this point will be Gaston County government today.

Gaston County is governed by a seven-member Board of Commissioners. Each commissioner is elected by the people in an at-large partisan election held in November of even-numbered years. The terms of the commissioners are staggered in that three are elected in one year and the other four at the next election. The reason for the staggered terms is to insure that there are always some members on the Board who have had some previous experience in governing the county.

Each commissioner must reside in and represent one of the six townships in the county. The Gastonia Township, however, has two commissioners because of its substantially larger population. Newly-elected commissioners take an oath of office on the first Monday in December following the election. The Board of County Commissioners holds regular bi-monthly meetings on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. Annually, at the first regular meeting in December, one of the commissioners is elected as chairman, who will preside at meetings, represent the Board at public functions and perform many other duties.

The chief power of the Board lies in its control over county finances. The Board adopts the annual budget, makes appropriations for various county activities, and levies the necessary taxes to raise the money. While all activities of the county are authorized by the General Assembly, some activities are mandated. For example, the state compels the county to appropriate the necessary funds to provide court facilities, to provide offices for various elected officers and independent boards, to provide school buildings, to maintain law and order, and to carry on certain Human Service programs. In these situations the Board has only limited authority over certain elected officers and independent boards. It may criticize their actions and require reports from them, but it has no effective means of enforcing its wishes. Even in its power to appropriate money to these activities, it does not have absolute authority.

Property taxes may be levied by the county without a vote of the people to the extent allowed by North Carolina General Statute. Mandated functions which the county must provide include: maintenance of the courts, debt service, elections, jails, schools, social services, and joint undertaking of any of the above. However, any funds, regardless of its source, belonging to the county, may be spent only for public purposes. This is called the public purpose limitation which represents one of the checks and balances on the Board of Commissioners.

Important legislation passed in March of 1969 by the General Assembly, which extended the powers of the Board of Commissioners, was "Home Rule." This allows counties to adopt: ordinances to prevent and abate nuisances, whether on public or private property; ordinances supervising, regulating, supporting or prohibiting in the interest of public morals, comfort, safety, convenience and welfare, public recreations, amusements and entertainments, and all things determined to be for the public good; and ordinances in exercise of general police power not inconsistent with the Constitution and Laws of the United States. It must be stressed that the Home Rule granted to the counties is "limited" in the sense that the county cannot pass any ordinance contrary to state or federal law, nor can it pass any ordinance to be effective inside any municipality, unless the municipality agrees to the enforcement of such ordinance.

In addition, the Board enjoys considerable authority in deciding what other functions, not required by the General Assembly, the county shall perform and how they shall be administered.

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