The City of Pleasant Living – the Narrative

City Of Pleasant Living

Documentary by Brendan Camp LeGrand for Shelby High School Class of 1966 45th Reunion on October 1, 2011

Welcome to Shelby, City of Pleasant Living. We’re here in the heart of uptown Shelby at the historic Cleveland County Courthouse, home of the Cleveland County Historical Museum.

Whoa, this looks like a crime scene! Look, this building is empty! What happened to our museum? Where are our artifacts? Did somebody steal our artifacts? Oh, there they are! Whoa, and I thought somebody had got our Coke cans!

Well, just sit down here and I’ll tell you the stories about Cleveland County.

Beginning of Cleveland County

When the first settlers arrived in the 1750s, Cherokee and Catawba Indians lived here. The settlers found that it was a good place to homestead because game was plentiful and the land was fertile for planting crops. This land right here where we’re sitting now was my ancestors cornfield. Across the street over there at First National Bank was their cow pasture.

In 1840, the Camp family sold the land to James Love, who gave it the next year to Cleveland County for the town of Shelby. William Forbis gave an additional fifty acres adjacent to it, the land from Sunset Cemetery to Shelby City Park.

Cleveland County was carved out of Rutherford and Lincoln Counties and formed in 1841. It was named for the Battle of Kings Mountain Revolutionary War hero Col. Benjamin Cleveland.

Shelby became the county seat in 1843 and was named for another Battle of Kings Mountain Revolutionary War hero Col. Isaac Shelby. You’ve heard the term ‘around town’. Well, Shelby really was a round town! Surveyor John R. Logan laid out the streets of Shelby in a one-quarter mile circle with this very spot where this courthouse sits as the center.

The first courthouse was at the home of William Weathers in the Zion Baptist Church community. Then in 1845, a new brick courthouse was build right here on this site.

War Between the States

In 1861, North Carolina seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America. We were one of the last states to join and only then when there were threats against the South.

To show loyalty to the South, and support for secession, local men got an old cannon used in the Revolutionary War Battle of Cowpens and brought it to Shelby and fired it all night, burning up three kegs of powder. The last round was loaded so heavily that it burst the old cannon and broke out every window in the courthouse.

During the War Between the States, Shelby was just a wide place in the road that was mostly woods and all frame buildings. Most people farmed so they lived outside the town limits. During the antebellum days, most of the industries in the county were businesses that supported the community, like blacksmiths, buggy makers, saw mills, and corn and grist mills. After the war, people had to diversify and there was even a cigar factory in Shelby and also a 15-acre vineyard over on South DeKalb Street.

Shelby and Cleveland County Prospered

But it wasn’t until the 1880s that the town really grew. A major factor in the town’s growth was the railway system that began in Cleveland County in the mid-1880s, as both the Southern Railway and Seaboard Railway systems provided rail service to Shelby.

By 1900, Shelby and Cleveland County were economically booming and thrived in the early part of the century. In 1901, the town of Shelby petitioned the General Assembly to create a new charter changing its name to the “City of Shelby,” extending the city radius to three-quarters of a mile.

The majority of the buildings in uptown Shelby were built at that time, and affluent citizens built large homes near the center of town.

In 1907, the old brick courthouse was torn down and replaced by this beautiful two-story Neo-Classical Revival style limestone building with an octagonal domed cupola.

Shelby first got electricity in 1902, but for a long time people didn’t trust electricity and thought it was dangerous to have wires running into their homes, so they continued to use oil lamps and candles.

In 1906, Thomas Edison came to town to shed some light on the subject. He came here especially looking to see what minerals were available in Cleveland County. Uptown Shelby was crowded with people who came to see the famous inventor who received more than a thousand patents in his lifetime.

The City of Shelby and Cleveland County revolved around the court square. Carnivals were held on the public square and people came from all over for the July 4th parade in uptown.

At the turn of the century capital punishment was carried out in public. There were seven legal executions in Shelby.  People came from all over the county to see the public hangings. They drew a bigger crowd than a circus.  The last lynching was when Ben Clark was hanged in 1904 after shooting Shelby Police Chief Edgar Hamrick while attempting to escape from custody.

Mineral Springs Made the County a Popular Resort

Cleveland County had nearly twenty sulfur and lithia springs and Shelby was known as the “City of Springs.”   Lithia springs water was piped five miles to the court square and was sold to the public from a pavilion.

Cleveland County was one of the most popular resort areas in the South in the mid-to-late 19th century. Hotels were built near the springs and people came from all over the South for the medical healing powers of the mineral spring water. People were convinced that it would cure a wide range of ills.

The best known of the resorts was Cleveland Springs Hotel on East Marion Street. It was a year-round resort, a convention center, and a commercial hotel. They served good food, had orchestras on special occasions, and offered many activities including horseback riding, golf and tennis, swimming and dancing. People went there for picnics and hayrides.

The first hotel was built in 1851 and burned in 1854. The second hotel was built in 1866 and burned in 1907. The third was built in 1920 and burned in 1929. People still gathered at the springs to camp out and socialize, even after the hotel burned. The columns from the hotel still stood until the late 1980s when lovely condominiums called “The Columns” were built on that hillside.

Textile Mills and Cotton

Textile mills started just before the turn of the century as a way to supplement the income made from farming. By 1940, there were twenty-two textile mills in Cleveland County paying among the highest wages in the South.

The mills were built to weave cloth and yarn out of the abundance of cotton that was grown here. During the 1930s, Cleveland County was the wealthiest agricultural county in the state.

Cleveland County was standing in high cotton! We were North Carolina’s leading producer for many years reaching a high of 72,100 bales in 1948. Cleveland County had modern gins with all the latest equipment that attracted cotton growers from other counties and ginned 83,549 bales that year. The first bale of cotton ginned was auctioned off each year right here in the center of uptown Shelby at the courthouse.

Villages grew up around the mills. The mills provided jobs, housing, a company store, and contributed generously to the civic, religious, and educational progress of the county. Schools, churches, hard surfaced roads, and motor vehicles also improved the social and civic lives of the people. Shelby was a comfortable place to live. It was a thriving town with successful businesses and well-maintained homes with the conveniences of indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water.

Shelby Dynasty

From the 1920s to the 1940s, Shelby was known for its politicians. The 1930s began and ended with a governor from Shelby. O. Max Gardner was governor of North Carolina from 1929-1933. The Governor built his own political dynasty and controlled state politics. Shelby was called the second capital of North Carolina. Governor Gardner was Undersecretary of the U. S. Treasury and he was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain, but he died on the eve of his departure for London.

Governor Gardner’s brother-in-law Clyde R. Hoey served as Governor of North Carolina from 1937-1941. He served in the U. S. Senate from 1945 until his death in 1954.

Governor Gardner’s father-in-law was Superior Court Judge James L. Webb who served in the North Carolina Senate. Judge Webb’s brother was Federal Judge Edwin Yates Webb who was also Congressman of North Carolina’s Ninth District.

They were known as the “Shelby Dynasty” along with Judge Odus Mull, who served six terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives and Shelby Daily Star owner and publisher Lee B. Weathers, who served four terms in the North Carolina Senate.

It was unusual that so many men from the same county would reach such heights of fame during the same generation. The “Shelby Dynasty” made great advancement in good government on all levels for all people under their leadership.

Uptown Shelby

This uptown was full of people. Hunt’s Bus Line ran trips back and forth out in the county. Everybody went to the movies and hung out at the drugstores. The uptown stores did a booming business. You knew everybody and you recognized most of the cars.

I guess the biggest crowd in uptown was for U. S. Senator Clyde R. Hoey’s funeral at Central Methodist Church on May 15, 1954. A special train from Washington brought a delegation of dignitaries, including sixteen senators. Some 8,000 people filled the court square and Washington Street.

This building was a Federal courthouse. It was busy up here too, with all the lawyers and people milling around. They tried some high profile cases here too. And then there was Hobert. I don’t know what Hobert did that he was in court about, but in November 1925, Mary Etta sent her brother Carle Mills in Greenville, Tenn. a postcard with a picture of the courthouse on it and wrote, “Here is where the judge told Hobert it was eight months.”

Cobby Horn was one of the best known lawyers Shelby ever had. One time he took a case representing The Toni Company. The beauty shops here sued Toni for making home permanents. Cobby Horn gave himself one of those home permanents and showed that they really worked. He won the case too!

The curator of the museum said this old courthouse was haunted. He never did say who the ghost was, but it was probably somebody who didn’t like how his trial went. That old ghost might have been the one who tore up that courtroom!

War Memorials

War memorials are placed around the courthouse grounds. The brave soldiers who fought in the wars are our real hometown heroes. Many of them lost their lives.

The Confederate monument was erected in 1906 to honor the Confederate dead. The United Daughters of the Confederacy collected the funds for the monument. It took ten mules to haul the granite base from the Southern Railway Depot on Morgan Street.

Cleveland County had about 700 men in World War I. A bronze marker was placed on the west entrance of the courthouse to honor the 31 men from Cleveland County who lost their lives in that war.

Cleveland County had 6,504 men and women in World War II. A granite marker and bronze plaque stands on the south side of the courthouse bearing the names of the 192 Cleveland County soldiers who lost their lives in the war. I like to stop and read the names of those heroes from time to time. I grew up with some of the children who lost their fathers.

A bronze plaque on the north side of the courthouse bears the names of the 20 Cleveland County soldiers who died in the Korean War. This plaque also bears the names of the 23 local men who died in the Vietnam War, including our Shelby High School classmate Wayne Hoyle.


Shelby has had its share of other tragedies too. There was a fire at the Central Hotel on February 28, 1928. A total of four people were killed. First National Bank, which occupied most of the first floor of the hotel, had to move because they had water damage from the fire. Six months later on August 28th the temporary housing for the bank on West Warren Street collapsed. The building fell due to excavation work being made while digging a cellar for a pool hall on the adjacent building that housed a grocery store and a tailor shop, and six more people were killed. The Central Hotel building was renovated and rebuilt as Hotel Charles and First National Bank moved to the corner of the block.

On March 5, 1950 there was another fire uptown. The block destroyed on West Warren Street was occupied by Kendall Drug, Bridges Auto Parts, and Ellis Bicycle. Sears-Roebuck was built on that site and was the first air-conditioned building in Shelby.

On August 24, 1959, Shelby had two big fires on the same night. The fire at Arey Oil Company, the Amoco distributor on Highway 74, broke out about 7:15 p.m. Oil drums, some loaded with high octane gasoline exploded. Shelby Fire Department rushed every piece of equipment to the scene and volunteer units backed them up and managed the fire station.

Bob Arey said he was bringing things out of the office and Shelby Fire Chief, Jim Reid, told a fireman to start putting the hose back on the truck and send the truck uptown, because Hoyt Keeter Motors, the Ford dealer uptown on Marion Street at the corner of South DeKalb Street, was burning.

The fire at Hoyt Keeters’ broke out about 9:00 p.m. and quickly engulfed the ground floor and burst through the roof. The Keeter fire was a threat to the other buildings in the uptown area. Kings Mountain and Gastonia fire units, as well as the entire county volunteer units assisted in putting out the fires. Four firemen were injured in the blazes.

On May 25, 1979 there was a tragic fire uptown in the same block of West Warren Street where the buildings collapsed in 1928. The building exploded sending bricks from the burning building into a deadly hail, falling on top of the crews on both sides of the building. Four firemen and a gas department worker were killed. This was the worst fire in the history of Cleveland County.

That same weekend the Roundup Store in Mooresboro burned.

President Hoover Visited Cleveland County

Not long after the 1929 fire that burned the Cleveland Springs Hotel for the third time, the bottom dropped out of the stock market, leading to the Great Depression. President Hoover started several programs, but all of them failed to reverse the downturn.

President Hoover came to Cleveland County October 30, 1930 to speak at the 150th anniversary celebration of the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain. He was the first President to visit Cleveland County. Many people in the county were out of work, wages and prices were low and cotton was down to ten cents a pound, but the President still came. Farmers rode to town in broken down automobiles hauled by mules called “Hoover Wagons.”

Thousands of people turned out to see him, but the people were in no mood to cheer because they felt that President Hoover was responsible for the plight they were in. Daddy said when Hoover was elected he promised a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Daddy said he kept his promise. The chicken was in the pot because you couldn’t afford to feed it and the car was in the garage because you couldn’t afford the gas to drive it.

President Roosevelt Visited Shelby

In the next election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president by a landslide. President Roosevelt came through Shelby on September 10, 1936 on his way from Asheville to Charlotte. It was the first time a President had ever visited Shelby.

Thousands of people lined Warren Street, the route he was taking through town. They stood in store windows and on top of buildings and climbed trees to see him. They waited for hours in the summer heat and a shower of rain.

But the President’s entourage got on the wrong street and passed through town one street over, on Marion Street. Disappointed people ran over fences and across yards to try to catch a glimpse of him as he passed.

Alvin “Peachtree” Smith

There were some characters in Shelby too…Alvin Smith was one of them! He was called “Peachtree” because he sold fruit trees around the county. Well, Old Peachtree was a ventriloquist. He’d entertain people by throwing his voice into a drain ditch or the trunk of a car and it sounded like a man was hollering for help. He kept the people hopping wondering how they were going to get that man out.

Old Peachtree asked everybody for a dollar. Said he wanted to start a home for needy folks in the county. He’d give folks a receipt for their money. Come to find out, when he died, he had collected $80,000 and put it in the bank just for that purpose. It seems that the money was given to charity.

Peachtree liked to make time capsules. He put newspapers, maps, and such into tar-sealed old glass bottles and hid and buried hundreds of them all over the county. In 2003, when Bob Still renovated the building for 5 East Restaurant, he found one of the bottles. It held five personal letters, a map of Georgia, and several pages of a 1939 edition of the Shelby Daily Star.

We have a time capsule now stored with our artifacts from the Cleveland County Historical Museum. They filled a big old metal drum in 1976 with a representation of county interests. It won’t be opened until our county’s Bi-Centennial in 2041.

Peachtree Smith was talented too. He could write and paint and he had a photographic memory. He could take a local telephone book, scan a page and then give you the telephone number of anyone on that page when you gave him their name.

I thought I’d try that. Well, I couldn’t remember the numbers, but I got fascinated with the names of the people of Cleveland County listed in the telephone book.

There’s Blacks and Whites and Grays and Greens, and there’s Birds and Finches and Jays and Crows, and there’s Leaches and Roaches and Moths, and there’s Carrs and Fords and Packards and Nashs and Austins and Bentleys, and there’s Guys and Grooms and Batchelors and Biddys and Horneys and Hookers. And there’s Rhymes and Riddles and Cobbs and Webbs, and there’s Cummings and Goings, and there’s Moss and Ivey and Clover and Ferns, and there’s Houses and Poarches and Eves and Roofs, and there’s Sides and Edges and Bottoms. And there’s even a dermatologist here named Dr. Urash!

And there are also twenty-five stores here that have the word “Dollar” in their name. You know folks here are thrifty and looking for a bargain.

Robert Harrill

Robert Harrill was another character around town. He used to sell handcrafted jewelry on the streets of uptown Shelby. After he and his wife divorced, his in-laws had him committed to the mental institution in Morganton. He made a key out of a spoon and escaped to the North Carolina coast and became the Fort Fisher Hermit.

He spent sixteen years in an old World War II bunker preaching his “common sense” beliefs to people who stopped by to see him. He said he was writing a book. He had a guest list that included more than a hundred thousand visitors from all fifty states and at least twenty foreign countries.

He became a local celebrity and the second most popular tourist attraction in the state- second only to the U. S. S. North Carolina. Reporters wrote articles about him and at least one documentary.

He died in 1972 at 79 years old and they suspected foul play, but they ruled his death was a heart attack. They brought him back to Shelby and buried him in Zoar Baptist Church Cemetery. In 1984, they sent his body to Chapel Hill for an autopsy. They brought him back to Shelby and buried him in Sunset Cemetery. Then five years later, they dug him up again and moved his remains to Federal Point Methodist Church Cemetery at Carolina Beach where they placed a marker.

The hermit bunker is still standing and now nearly forty years later, “The Fort Fisher Hermit Society” carried on his memory as they continue to tell his story.

Catherine Babington

There is a Masonic emblem on the cornerstone of the courthouse. And that building across the street is the Masonic Building. It is the tallest building in town.

You know the Masonic Fraternity has secrets and when Catherine Babington was a young woman, she slipped into the lodge room of a Masonic Lodge and hid herself under the pulpit and listened. She spied on their meetings until she learned all their degrees, so they had to make her a Mason to keep her from telling their secrets. She was the only female Mason in the world. She died in Shelby in 1886 and is buried over in Sunset Cemetery.

Fred Simmons

People here are fascinated with airplanes. A daredevil business of the 1920s was barnstorming. It began after World War I when airplanes were cheap and pilots were plentiful.

The pilots demonstrated a series of breathtaking spins, turns, somersaults, loops, rolls and stalls. There could be wing-walking, aerial dogfights, changing planes in midair and other hair-raising stunts. It was the first time most Americans experienced the miracle of flying. Folks could view the flying machines, usually biplanes, up close. Some folks got to take a spin over the town.

We had our own barnstormer. Cleveland County native Fred Simmons was a member of the “Four Flying Aces,” a group of barnstormer fliers who performed an air circus for crowds. His daredevil stunts included walking on the wings of his plane in his bare feet and returning to an open cockpit.

Charles Lindbergh Flew Over Cleveland County

In October 1927, local folks got to see Charles Lindbergh right here in Cleveland County. It was just five months after he made his famous first nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.

He flew the Spirit of St. Louis over the county on his way from Spartanburg to Greensboro. All eyes were trained on the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of Lucky Lindy as he passed over the Earl community, and when he got to Kings Mountain, he circled ten to fifteen minutes and flew low and tipped his wings to the crowd.


Crop-dusting was another local aerial show. Farmers depended on airplanes to dispense fertilizer and pesticides. The planes flew low with their wheels almost touching the crops to eliminate fertilizer or pesticides from spraying in the wrong direction. The planes were mostly post World War II surplus biplanes flown by World War II pilots who still wanted to fly.

Oren Pruitt

An unlikely story happened here in the summer of 1956, but it is the truth. Oren Pruitt fell out of an airplane as it flew over Shelby and landed in Zion Baptist Church Cemetery.

Oren and his new bride, Blandene, were flying from Charlotte to Asheville for their honeymoon. Oren went to the bathroom to get Blandene a drink of water and opened the wrong door by mistake and whoosh, right out the door of that airplane he went! One of the passengers said they saw his heels as he disappeared out the door.

They had only been married twenty-two hours. Poor old Blandene was on a streak of bad luck herself. The fellow she was engaged to before she met Oren was killed in a car wreck shortly before their marriage.

Cleveland County Fair

The Cleveland County Fair has been the single biggest event held in Cleveland County since it started back in 1924. The lovely stone entrance that looked like a fortress burned on Christmas Eve 1951.

The James E. Strates Show used to arrive by rail and unload at the Southern Railway Depot on Marion Street. Townspeople came to watch the railway cars unload. They walked the elephants down Marion Street to the fair grounds on foot.

People still come from far and wide to see the sights and shows, eat the food, and ride the rides. Local farmers bring their livestock and homegrown produce to compete for ribbons and prize money. Toy Grigg grew a New Guinea giant bean that weighed thirty-two pounds. Esley Eaves raised an eight pound double-decked Mexican squash. Clyde Wilson grew an ear of corn that measured twenty-seven inches from tip to tip.

Local Garden Clubs compete with their flower arrangements. Our garden club, A Rake and An Old Hoe, won the last two years.

In the 1950s and 1960s stock car races, “The Lucky Teter Daredevils” featuring Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner, and “Fireball” Roberts performed at the fair, and “Kochman Hell Drivers” were on the grandstand. Now demolition derbies feature local daredevil drivers.

The side shows were some of the biggest attraction at the fair. The hoochy-koochy show was always a crowd stopper. Baby Dumplin’ was famous for twirling her tassels and Burlesque Queen Pagan Jones titillated the crowd with previews of the show inside the tent. Daddy told my brothers not to go see the girlie show because they would see something they weren’t supposed to. Well, they went in anyway, and sure enough they saw something they weren’t supposed to-Daddy sitting down there on the front row!

On October 7, 1954, while the fair was here, the Fat Lady died and they buried her in Sunset Cemetery. Her tombstone reads: Betty Singleton Holdridge- “She came to Shelby as a simple fat lady in the fair. She left this earth as our friend.”

Cleveland County Diversified

In the late 1940s the old boll weevil, the biggest villain to hit the South since Sherman, ate the cotton crop and Cleveland County had to diversify.

Pittsburgh Plate Glass built a plant on a cotton field in Cleveland County in 1959 and Fiber Industries built a plant on another cotton field in 1960, and Cleveland County’s economy was no longer dependent on the weather and pests.

From 1955-1965, seventeen new industries came to Cleveland County. Along with them came new stores and restaurants and doctors.

Christmas in Uptown Shelby

Shelby has always been known for its beautiful Christmas lights that decorate the uptown. The white lights in the trees around the courthouse are magical.

One of the highlights of the Christmas season is the Shelby Christmas Parade. The streets are lined with people who arrive early to get a front spot along the parade route.

The grand marshals lead the parade. They are followed by local government officials who eagerly greet their constituents and smile and wave to the crowd. Floats filled with lovely ladies in evening gowns follow, often with their shoulders draped with a fur stole as warmth against the winter cold. Businesses, choirs, and scout groups ride in the parade. Christmas music fills the air as school bands participate in the parade. Last, the most anticipated and favorite attraction of the parade is Santa Claus, with his flowing white beard and dressed in his red furry suit, riding in his sleigh.

The 1970 Shelby Christmas Parade didn’t have Santa Claus in it. The empty float went through the whole parade winding through the streets of uptown Shelby. Children cried because they thought something had happened to Santa Claus. Parents got mad because Santa Claus was missing and they didn’t know how to explain it to their children. It turned out Santa didn’t come because nobody remembered to invite him. Walter Cronkite even told about it on the national news on television.

After that, some folks took matters into their own hands. Carolyn Goforth borrowed a Santa costume from the Salvation Army and played Santa herself.

Later, Polkville Christmas Parade had two Santa Clauses-one at the end of the parade and another one on a Baptist Church float. The two Santas might have confused the kids, but maybe after the Shelby parade, they weren’t taking any chances.

Cleveland County Weather

One thing about this area, we have all kinds of weather. In the wintertime it snows. Folks have to be sure to put antifreeze in their cars. In 1945, we had an ice storm on Christmas Day. On March 2, 1960, we got the worst snowstorm in twenty-five years and it snowed every Wednesday for three weeks. January 3, 1999 freezing rain, ice, and sleet knocked out electrical service in the worst ice storm in fifty years. It gets so cold here in the winter the clothes freeze on the line. You don’t have to worry if you run out of clothesline. You can just stand your britches up to dry!

And in the summertime we have a heat wave. It gets so hot here in the summer, folks will do about anything to keep cool. Some will even take their horses for a swim, and then just use them for a diving board.

It gets so wet here sometimes that you can see your reflection in the mud puddles. Back in 1916, it rained so much Cleveland County had a great flood. Cyclonic winds and heavy rains took out ten bridges, mills, power and water suppliers, and destroyed homes and ruined crops.

Sometimes, we’d like to see some rain when we have a drought. It gets so dry here the fire department waters the grass from the aerial truck.

Liquor in Cleveland County

The newspaper said Demon Rum played a role in the history of Cleveland County. Sources say that in the early days, liquor was used as a substitute for water, which was not in plentiful supply. Sources say even children were given liquor to ward off “noxious vapors.”

When immigrants came to America, they brought their liquor making equipment with them. The equipment was expensive and was bequeathed in wills to the next generation.

Folks in the hill country didn’t have access to many jobs, so they made moonshine for a living. They called it “white lightning” and “mountain dew.” It was hard to haul produce across bad roads, so corn was distilled into moonshine because it was marketable and easy to haul. They said corn made the best liquor and medicine. Farmers measured their corn crop in gallons.

Before the turn of the century, uptown bars in Shelby sold liquor without restraint, and they also had legalized lotteries. An article in the Shelby newspaper in 1905 said a large amount of alcohol was consumed when the circus came to town. They said whiskey, cider, and all other kings of intoxicating concoctions flowed freely from somewhere and there was more drinking and rowdyism in Shelby than had been witnessed in many years. They said a large number of thirsty citizens from far and near were on hand to consume it.

But in 1908, North Carolina passed a state prohibition outlawing the sale of alcohol. In 1919, our own Congressman, E. Y. Webb, helped draft the 18th Amendment that banned the sale and manufacture of alcohol all over the United States.

This began a brand new business of manufacturing, smuggling, and transporting whiskey. In the South, bootleggers hauled moonshine whiskey in souped-up cars to escape the law.

The 18th Amendment was appealed in 1933 and North Carolina’s state prohibition ban lasted until 1935, but Cleveland County remained dry until 1975. There were no legal sales of alcoholic beverages, but bootleggers sold liquor and liquor stills were located around the county. Alcohol was also served in private clubs. The Sheriff’s Department raided the clubs periodically and confiscated the liquor and slot machines. The local newspapers reported the raids, telling how much liquor was confiscated and who was arrested. They busted up the stills and poured the liquor out. The drain the Fire Department used for overflow in front of First National Bank was the biggest drain and the best place to dump the illegal haul.

Alcohol was legal just over the state line in Cherokee County, South Carolina, and local people made trips down Highway 18 South to purchase and drink alcoholic beverages.

Many people couldn’t afford to go to South Carolina to get liquor, or to buy expensive illegal booze from bootleggers. So they bought Canned Heat to drink, as well as Bay Rum Aftershave. There was a place in the woods by the railroad track behind the ball field and Sunset Cemetery where they would go to drink it. There was a little spring down there so everybody called it “Bay Rum Springs” or “The Green Leaf Hotel.” I have a friend who had an Uncle who had a drinking problem and his Uncle hung out down there. He had to walk the Seaboard Railroad track to get there and back home. One day his Uncle came home all out of breath and said a train had started chasing him so he outran it. All he had to do was step off the track and let it pass, but he was in no condition to think of that. It was a good thing the train stopped at the station or it might have run over him!

A tragedy happened in 1974 when some of the Bay Rummers purchased a Canned Heat called “Handy Fuel” that was lethal to drink and in the span of a few days, six people died from drinking it.

The next year, Cleveland County voted to legalize liquor and opened its first liquor store August 1, 1975. The day the liquor store opened, it was smooth- like that Carolina corn. Hundreds of folks visited the store that day. Police directed traffic as customers stood in line waiting to get in. The parking lot was full of cars. The rental car business said that they had a busy day that day too!

Some folks found a new legal business for their corn field. Gene and Alice Pyron created Shelby Corn Maze. This year’s theme was Country Music star Jason Aldean. They got national recognition when the corn maze was featured on Country Music Television’s CMT “Top Twenty Countdown.”

Food in Cleveland County

Mostly folks around here just eat the corn crop. Clevelanders have always enjoyed eating. They said our county’s namesake Col. Benjamin Cleveland ate so much he weighed 500 pounds. Surely he must have been corn fed.

We love events that center around food. Nothing defines an area more than what people like to eat. Cleveland County salutes the pig. Cleveland County is in Hog Heaven! This area is famous for its barbecue. And Cleveland County is proclaimed as the Livermush Capital of the World. We even have a Livermush Expo and a Hog Happenin to taste and celebrate. The Livermush Expo got national exposure when Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods visited the event and told about it on television.

In 1972 there was a meat shortage and meat prices got so high people picketed around the courtsquare.

They say you are what you eat. That’s when I knew we were nuts! People here love peanuts. We even put peanuts in our R.C.’s!

I think we get our energy from caffeine and sugar. Local made soft drinks Cheerwine and Sundrop keep us jacked up along with Krispy Kreme donuts, Twinkies, Little Debbie cakes, and Moon Pies.

We enjoy the many good restaurants in Cleveland County too. Folks here like to go out to eat.

The summer of 1963 Shelby got its first fast food chain restaurant when Hardee’s opened. Folks flocked to buy the 15 cent hamburgers, 12 cent French fries, and 10 cent Cokes.

We were so tickled when we got a McDonald’s, we had a flag-raising ceremony!

Not long after the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant opened in Shelby, we had unexpected company at our house. Daddy asked Mama what she was going to feed them. Mama said she thought she’d just send out there to that new Kentucky Fried Chicken place. Daddy took her aside and said, “Now, Edna, you know that dadburned old chicken fried in Kentucky and shipped in here won’t be fit to eat.”

Local restaurants get inspected and their grade scores get printed in the newspaper. One restaurant got points deducted for stirring sauce with a drill. Now, can you imagine? Why would they use an expensive drill when they could have bought a wooden spoon for a dollar?

Clevelanders are Creative

The newspaper said, “Naked chickens have problems.” So that got us to quit thinking about chicken dressing and start thinking about dressing chickens. Tammy Sherman even made her cement goose a whole wardrobe with outfits for every season!

We’re an industrious bunch. We can make something out of nothing. Dick Crawley built a steam engine train out of junk metal and rode on the back of it sitting in a chair. Junior Warren built a 1933 Ford coupe from three sheets of plywood and parts from a riding lawnmower. George Doggett built a man sitting on a bicycle from scrap metal who waves a gloved hand at passing traffic. Henry Millwood retired his lawnmower to a place of honor on top of a pedestal in his yard for passersby to see.

We’re an enterprising bunch too and we don’t miss an opportunity to make a nickel. When the newspaper told about that Witch in the area, the Shelby Lions Club had a broom sale!

Cleveland County Travel and Tourism

After the mills closed and manufacturing was gone, and the county’s fortune fading away, we had to attract diversified industry. The leaders decided our future is in travel and tourism.

The traveling tourists are just coming out of the woods! Even the deer have taken a liking to uptown stores and are coming here shopping. A doe crashed into Victoria-Stephens gift shop door in uptown Shelby. She ran down the main aisle knocking things over. And a buck ran through Buffalo Creek Art Gallery like a bull in a China shop. He wrecked their displays and even left his antler stuck in the wall. Folks reckoned that it must be rutting season.

That old sinkhole over on Marion Street swallowed up that SUV. Guess that wasn’t exactly what the city officials had in mind about a groundbreaking!

Somebody said we ought to pipe the spring water back up to the court square and sell it up here again. They thought we could try a new marketing strategy and bottle it and call it “Diet Water.”

Some people thought that new Camp Lickalotta would be an economic stimulus!

Some folks here are capitalizing on the unexplained mystery of Bigfoot. I never did know why they called him Bigfoot. Did he only have one foot? And was it the left foot or the right foot? They’re always saying they saw a footprint? Was it only one footprint? And was it the same foot? Anyway, around here, Bigfoot is called “Knobby” because he is reputed to have been seen on Knob Hill in upper Cleveland County near Casar. Folks wonder if some of the sightings were fabricated in hopes of scaring revenuers away from the moonshine stills located in them hills. Tim Peeler is one of the Cleveland County residents who said he spotted Knobby. He told about it on national television!

Cleveland Residents are Smart

Forbes Magazine labeled Shelby number three out of the top ten most vulnerable cities and towns in the nation and our city officials got in a tizzy over it. But they decided that Forbes had just made their decision based on raw statistics and not first-hand knowledge. City officials weren’t worried about it because they knew we could read!

You can get a good education right here. We’ve got Cleveland Community College and Gardner-Webb University. Some folks say you can get an education here even if you don’t go to school.

Even our dogs are smart! Mrs. Cora Hamrick’s dog, Sergeant, went to the grocery store for her with the money and a note in an envelope tied to his collar. He brought her groceries back in a paper bag attached to his collar. And when sign painter, Slick Russell, was working uptown, he sent his dog to the store for snacks. And there was a dog named Parker Carroll registered to vote!

There was a bird over in Barbara Baker’s yard that fed the goldfish. That bird would go to the fence and chirp for the goldfish and they’d stick their little heads out of the water for him to feed them. He’d put the food into their mouths then go foraging for some more. The fish must have thought that bird was their Daddy. The picture was in The National Enquirer Magazine and Audubon Society Magazine and thirty years later when the picture surfaced again, the magazines started calling because they thought it had just happened.

There was a rabbit in Barbara Baker’s yard too that was going to use a camera to take a picture of a dog.

There are cows here that play soccer out in the pasture.

Animals look after each other. We’ve got pictures of dogs taking care of ducks, dogs looking after kittens and chickens with kittens in their nest. They all got their picture in the newspaper.

John and Osteen Hendrick’s turkey went to the White House. He was presented to President Ronald Reagan as the annual Thanksgiving turkey. They named him “R. J.” because he was robust and juicy. He weighed 53 pounds! Old R. J. wasn’t impressed with all the White House pomp and he just showed himself. He flapped his wings with his feathers just flying and sprayed onlookers, including President Reagan! He must have thought he was destined for the platter, but he was pardoned by the President and he went to live at the Washington Zoo!

That old black snake zapped the power in uptown Shelby. It was a Saturday night and restaurants, residents, and businesses were without power in nearly 100 degree weather. It happened just as Sarah Gwen Dedmon and Capt. Benjamin Caple’s wedding reception started. They’d just completed their first dance as man and wife when the lights went out. They had to leave everything, the food and gifts and all and they didn’t even get to cut the cake. They got married right up here on this courthouse lawn. Sarah rode up here with her Father in a horse-drawn carriage just like a princess. After the wedding, everyone walked across the street to the reception in the upstairs of First National Bank, and whap- that old black snake zapped the power!

They got fake alligator heads in the city’s water treatment plant. They said they were trying to deter the geese from getting into the water. They killed a real alligator in the water at the First Broad River! People here only swim in pools. After seeing “Jaws,” some people were even scared to get in the bathtub!

We have frog jumping contests, beauty pageants, beard growing contests, bicycle races, rock-a-thons, car shows, rubber ducky regattas, ballgames, and festivals. We just love to compete. And we just love to win!

Our chicken won! Dr. Simpson sent his chicken on an airplane to the Lone Star State and she beat the Texas chickens in the First Charro Days Chicken Flying Meet. When the chicken got back, she was going to be greeted by the Mayor!

Our bathtub won! Albatross, Robert Hoyle’s yellow bathtub, took first place in the bathtub derby on Lake Norman!

Since they opened up the Highway 74 by-pass, we have 40,000 cars pass through here every day. Ever since that old interstate racetrack opened, it’s been trouble. On the same day, a truck crashed and scattered chicken crates over the highway, and a pig truck wrecked and the vermin had to be chased down!

In the Country Club area, they had a problem with real Peeping Toms. Wild turkeys went around the neighborhood looking into people’s windows. Some say they were looking for golfers with stray balls!

Law Enforcement Stories

The new Cleveland County Courthouse was built in 1974 and the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Department is located there. The City of Shelby Police Department is located behind City Hall. Folks here keep both Departments as well as the Fire Department and Emergency Services busy. And boy do they have stories to tell!

The Sheriff’s Department captured a Bengal tiger cub on County Line Road. Another cub was captured on the same road just over the Gaston County line.

Folks said they saw a bear and somebody called 911 about it.

A Sheriff’s Detective had a run-in with an escaped llama. The llama chased the Detective’s car. They didn’t know why the llama chased him. Somebody said he might have smelled donuts!

One day there was a cell phone call about a hostage situation at Charleston Place. Of course the officers had to go down there. They handcuffed two men, then found out they owned businesses in the building.

The new Sherriff beat the old Sheriff in the election. So before the old Sheriff’s term expired, the old Sheriff fired the new Sheriff who happened to be his Deputy. Well, the new Sheriff was surprised he got fired, but what could he say?

When Daylight Savings Time began in the spring, the newspaper reminded us to turn our clocks back one hour on Saturday night instead of forward. The only trouble with that was the preachers might have missed church.

Television and Movies

Actor Danny McBride wrote an HBO comedy series called “Eastbound and Down” that took place in a town called, Shelby, North Carolina. He said he took a few trips here and the town just stuck in his mind.

Cleveland County is known for its film industry. Cleveland County native, Earl Owensby, owner of E. O. Productions, made dozens of action movies in the 1970s and ’80s, and Owensby, himself, starred in many of them. The movies were mostly filmed right here in Cleveland County and some local people here got to be in the movies.

Cleveland County is often the site of movie filming today. They filmed “Hunger Games” here and also “Blood Done Sign My Name.” Local people make up the thousands of extras used in the films.

We like to be movie stars and we like to see them in person. Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, came to Shelby to the Cinema Theatre on November 13, 1975, to promote his movie, “Mackintosh and T. J.” Flocks turned out to see him.

You have to be careful what you put on the movie marquee though. Over there in Charlotte, the Dilworth Theatre advertised they were showing two horrible movies!

Locals always flocked to the Rogers Theater to see the movies. Now the theater is being renovated for a restaurant, dinner theater, and performing arts center.


The State Theatre has been converted into the Don Gibson Theatre. It provides a variety of entertainment including well known musicians and movies. It is named for legendary Country Music Hall of Fame singer and songwriter, Shelby’s own Don Gibson.

He wrote and recorded many songs including “Oh, Lonesome Me,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and “Sweet Dreams” three of the most famous songs in country music history.

Don Gibson’s impressive monument in Sunset Cemetery has the written words to “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” It is one of Shelby’s most frequented landmarks.

They say music is the soul of an area. Shelby hosts summer Alive After Five concerts with street dances. In the fall, the Arts Council has the Art of Sound festival.

Shelby High School orchestra played at Carnegie Hall.

First Baptist Church choir sang at Lincoln Center.

Cleveland County Choral Society puts on special performances.

And the Greater Shelby Community Theatre produces musicals.

Local singers compete for the title of Cleveland County Idol.

Another native son, Country Music Hall of Famer Earl Scruggs is a two-time Grammy Award winner, a member of the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He perfected and popularized a 3-finger style of picking a banjo that is the defining characteristic of Bluegrass music. He is best known for the Beverly Hillbillies theme song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” the background music for the motion picture “Bonnie and Clyde.”

The Earl Scruggs Center-Songs and Stories of the Foothills will open in Shelby next year.

Sonny Terry, the blind blues musician, got his start playing the harmonica on the streets of Shelby and right up here at the Cleveland County courthouse and he ended up in the Blues Hall of Fame.

Shelby native, Johnny Best played with several leading American Big Bands including Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman.

Shelby native, musician Dan X. Padgett is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Local songwriter, Rick Bowles, has written fifteen Top Ten songs. His song he wrote about growing up in Shelby called “Down Home” was a number one hit for the country music group, Alabama.

Cleveland County native, Alicia Bridges, wrote and sang “I Love the Night Life” the song that defined the Disco era.

George Hatcher and his band have performed all over the United States and England.

Darin and Brooke Aldridge continue to top the Gospel and Bluegrass charts and they continue to perform for local audiences.

Bethel Baptist Church made a bonfire and burned record albums and covers as a rebellion against the evils of rock and roll music. The choir director said Elvis started it. The preacher was interviewed by the press, radio, and TV from as far away as San Diego and Boston.

We found a way to avoid the toxic fumes and make something useful from unwanted records and save them from the dump. We made flower pots and bowls out of them!


We’ve had lots of well known sports figures from Cleveland County. Two-time Heavyweight Champion of the World, Floyd Patterson, was from Cleveland County. At age 21, he was the youngest boxer to win the world heavyweight championship title and he was the first Olympic gold medalist to win a heavyweight title. A parade was given in his honor in October 1959. Crowds of local fans gathered in uptown Shelby to cheer him as he passed through the city streets.

We have a Cleveland County Sports Hall of Fame. Members’ pictures are displayed at Shelby City Park, including Major Leaguer Tom Wright who played for the Boston Red Sox and was a teammate of Ten Williams, Major Leaguer Roger McKee who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, and Major Leaguer Billy Champion who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers.

Other famous athletes from Shelby include National Football League Hall of Famer Bobby Bell who played for the Kansas City Chiefs when they won the Super Bowl in 1969, and National Football League member Melvin Phillips, Jr. who played for the San Francisco 49ers.

Basketball great and member of the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame David Thompson is from Shelby. He made the NBA All-Star Game four seasons.

Shelby native, golfer Pete Webb, played in two United States Open Tournaments.

James Washburn was a college football star and became a successful coach in the National Football League.

Millie Keeter Holbrook was a member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association as a touring professional and she taught golf in Japan.

Many teams from Shelby have made sports history too. Shelby High School Golden Lions have won many championships to add to their trophy case.

Shelby has always had a love for baseball. The schools had teams, the mills had teams, and we had professional teams. The American Legion Post #82 won the American Legion Little World Series in 1945. Shelby had a string of winning seasons in the 1950s and the 1957 and 1958 teams won back to back state championships. My brother, Tommy Camp, played American Legion baseball for four years back then, and we sat in box seats right behind home plate. One night we didn’t make it to an American Legion Western N. C. playoff game, and we gathered around the radio and listened to the ballgame at home. Tommy Eaton was a left-handed pitcher who played for Salisbury. The radio announcer said, “Tommy Eaton on the mound tonight.” Daddy jumped up and yelled, “That dadburn Tommy is out there eating on the mound. He’d better get his mind back on that ballgame!”

Now Shelby has the honor of hosting the American Legion World Series games. Thousands of people flock to town for the games. They are played on Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium at Shelby High School.


Cleveland County has produced a number of well known writers. The famous orator, Thomas F. Dixon Jr. (1864-1946) was born in Shelby and authored 28 novels depicting the horrors of the Reconstruction Period and the Invisible Empire. He is best known for writing “The Clansman” and producing the first million dollar movie, “The Birth Of A Nation,” which was based on that book. It is ranked 44th in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies.

Hatcher Hughes (1881-1945), a professor at Columbia University, was born in Cleveland County and was awarded the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for his 1922 Broadway play “Hell-Bent For Heaven.”

Wilbur J. Cash was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing he did on World War II while he was working as Associate Editor for The Charlotte News. He is best known as author of the book “The Mind Of The South,” which he wrote while he lived in Shelby. The book has never been out of print since it was first published.

Jane Logan wrote “The Very Nearest Room” which was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1973.   Her widely acclaimed novel, about a girl coming of age, was influenced by her years living in Shelby.

In 2006, Rebekah Ellis Adams wrote “Called To China Attie Bostick’s Life and Missionary Letters From China,” a book about her famous missionary Aunt from Cleveland County. Attie Bostick and her brothers, G. P. and Wade, had a total service of 170 years in the mission fields of China.

Folk-ballad songwriter, Kenneth Walker, wrote a book called “The Banyan Tree” about his platoon in the Vietnam War. Kenneth was in the Navy during the war, serving in Vietnam with the Marines as a corpsman.

Former Mayor of Shelby, Lester D. Roark, is a prolific writer. For several years, he served as editor of The Cleveland Times. He has authored four books: “It’s A Matter of Time,” “A Man Goes Back To Where The Boy Has Been,” Something To Think About,” and “Getting America Back On Track” with the proceeds going to Shelby High School scholarship funds. Les is also a playwright.

Ludy Wilkie and Tom Bennett are also Cleveland County natives who are playwrights. Their plays delight audiences everywhere.

Many other local writers have written books that can be found in the Cleveland County Memorial Library. Books and microfilm are available for research.

Broad River Genealogical Society preserves our county’s written history and is also open to the public for research.

Our hometown newspaper, The Shelby Star, reports our news and records our history for posterity.


Houses have a great part in the history of Cleveland County. Builders have portrayed every period and style. Many of the homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Spanish style El Nido is one of the most recognized. Another is the Bankers House with its tall tower. Many of the historic houses have been lovingly preserved. Among them are Governor Gardner’s House “Webbley,” another is the McBrayer House, and still another is the J. R. Moore House. The Spurling House has been restored as an attorney’s office.

Certainly among the new homes in the area that are outstanding are the Turner House near Boiling Springs and the Teddy House near Cleveland Country Club.

Some houses portray the whimsy of their owners. Among the most unusual is the underground house in Cleveland County that has to have the grass on the roof mowed. The Arts Council painted one house with graffiti. There’s an interesting house in nearby Forest City that is made of glass soft drink bottles. Can you imagine collecting enough drink bottles to build a house?


Shelby was chosen as an All-America City, and it was proclaimed a Main Street Community by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on June 23, 1983. It was one of the first five Main Street communities. The whole uptown is on the National Register of Historic Places.

You got to love this place! I mean even that pigeon that Sam Guest sold to a fellow up in Detroit, Michigan came back. Took him two years though, and you never know what was going on up there.

We hope everyone will come to tour Cleveland County. It’s a trip! Well, I hope you enjoyed your visit here and I enjoyed sharing our local history with you. Y’all come on back now, you hear!