Cleveland County (population 97,056) is in the southwestern portion of North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The county is between two large metropolitan areas—Charlotte and Greenville/Spartanburg.
Created in 1841, the county was named for Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, hero of the nearby Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain. Shelby became the county seat in 1842, and the streets surrounding its historic courthouse square are all named for Revolutionary War generals.
Cotton production and textile manufacturing were the principal industries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At one point, Cleveland County produced more cotton than any other county in the state. With the arrival of the boll weevil in the late 1940s and the subsequent destruction of the cotton crop, many farmers turned to manufacturing.
Today the recently restored circa 1907 county courthouse is a source of pride, and its square is a venue for “Alive After Five” concerts and arts festivals. It has become a focal point for renewed economic vitality based on preservation of the county’s historic resources. This public-private partnership project prompted a group of volunteers to update the collections of the historical museum located within the courthouse, and to develop ways to bring the community to the square for the sharing of traditions through display, stories, and song.
Numerous local groups support Cleveland County’s heritage resources, which include the historic Metcalfe gas station, an antique tractor museum, and a restored 1919 carrousel. An 1830s log cabin is used as an interpretive/educational site at the Broad River Greenway. Citizens are now discussing how to best use the gift of the Bankers House—one of the finest examples of Second Empire architecture in the state—to Preservation North Carolina, for educational and heritage tourism purposes.
Cleveland County created a Historic Preservation Commission in 2005, with an enabling ordinance and inter-local agreements with 14 out of its 15 local municipal governments. Information on the county’s inventory of historic properties is available to the public through a GIS. Cleveland County is a Certified Local Government, a Main Street Community, a recipient of funds under the Save America’s Treasures program, and a recipient of Transportation Enhancements funding for historic preservation.
Designated a Preserve America Community in March 2007.