The year 1996 was a big one for Gaston County — the county’s 150th birthday. The birthday — Dec. 21, 1846 — is the official beginning of Gaston County, but settlement here goes back a century before that.
In the mid – 1700’s, white settlers migrate here from Pennsylvania via the great trade route. These people of Lutheran and Presbyterian faith joined the Catawba Indians, who had been in the region for more than 100 years and had fought off the Cherokees to establish villages along the South Fork River.
Later, the Catawbas helped the patriots in their fight against England in the Revolutionary War. Three battles were fought in the Gaston County area: Kings Mountain, Cowpens and Ramsour’s Mill.
By the 1840’s, the area was flourishing and the southern end of Lincoln County wanted to have their own representation in the state legislature. They elected James Hillhouse White and Larkin Stowe and sent them to Raleigh to negotiate the carving of Gaston County from Lincoln. Landowner Jesse Holland agreed to donate part of a 75-acre tract and sell other parcels to form a town square for a county seat. They named the newly formed town Dallas, after the vice president of the United States, George Mifflin Dallas. The new county was named for Associate Supreme Court Justice William Gaston, who was born in New Bern and spent his life in the eastern part of the state. Gaston probably never visited his namesake, but he did contribute money to the Catholic church on Mountain Island about two years before the county was born.
In 1848, Henry Humphreys and his son-in-law Thomas R. Tate changed Gaston when they came from Greensboro and established the first textile mill. However, the Civil War halted textile mill construction. Soon after the war ended, mills sprang up all over the county. Three railroad companies put down tracks to haul goods in and out of the county.
The county seat moved from Dallas to Gastonia in 1911 after a group of business men promised $43,000 to build a new courthouse and jail if the voters would approve moving the counties business to their town.
By the mid-1900’s, more than 100 textile mills were operating in 14 towns and communities within Gaston County. A strike at a local mill brought national attention and unfavorable publicity to the county. Many of the early mills have merged with larger corporations, but the textile industry still remains the lifeblood of Gaston County.
Many entrepreneurs have found their fortune here, but not always in textiles. Early in the 20th century, Grier Beam started a delivery service in Cherryville that grew into a trucking empire, the former Carolina Freight Carriers. Freightliner has truck-manufacturing operations in Gaston County. FMC Corp. Lithium Division employs hundreds of people to help dig the element from the ground.
As the county has grown, so has the number of towns. Gaston now has 14 incorporated towns in its 364.5 square-mile borders. Each is unique and has its own attractions and traditions.