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History of Shelby

Shelby is named for Isaac Shelby, the Revolutionary War hero of the battle of nearby Kings Mountain. Officially incorporated in 1843, Shelby was designated the county seat of the newly-formed Cleveland County. The town grew slowly and most economic activity was based upon county government functions and service to farmers around the region.

The Civil War interrupted life in Shelby with many of the local men serving in the Confederate forces. Federal troops occupied the Courthouse Square after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Virginia in 1865, and marked the beginning of Reconstruction.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction period, Shelby began to make industrial progress with the investment of Northern-based industrialists. The pace quickened after rail service was introduced by the Carolina Central Railroad in 1874. Later that same year, Reconstruction effectively ended with the election of Governor Zebulon Vance. The 1880s were primarily dominated by agriculture, with corn, wheat, oats, cotton, and tobacco being major crops.

Also during the 1880s a locally-based political movement, known later as the "Shelby Dynasty," began to gain influence both locally and state-wide. This gathered momentum with civic pride and economic growth in the later part of the 19th Century, with the beginnings of a Masonic Lodge, YMCA, Knights of Pythias, and Woodmen of the World, along with a United Camp of Confederate Veterans. In 1894, the women of the South Washington Street neighborhood founded a literary club, believed the first such club for women in North Carolina.

A building boom in the 1920s increased the population of Shelby, while at the same time, cotton and textile industry expansion occurred. In 1924, the Masons moved to the impressive Egyptian Revival lodge constructed on South Washington Street. Newer homes were built along Marion and Lafayette Streets. During this time, the Shelby Dynasty sent two governors to Raleigh, as well as representatives to the House and Senate in Washington. Governor O. Max Gardner guided the state through the Great Depression and was a strong presence in Washington and New York after his term ended.

During the mid-1900s, farming gradually diminished as textiles and manufacturing grew in strength. The local economy began to see strains with the shifting of textile ownership into consolidated corporate structures later on and other manufacturing interests grew as a result.

Today, our local economy is greatly diversified, thanks to the efforts of city and county officials. Our town center -- Uptown Shelby -- features historic buildings and tree-lined streets, with the commercial center being designated a National Register Historic District, and our district as a Main Street America city since 1980. Among Uptown Shelby's attractions are the Don Gibson Theatre and Earl Scruggs Center, both of which exist to honor two great natives who became integral to their respective music genres during the last half of the 20th century.

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