Gastonia (population 66,277) was founded in the mid-1870s as a railroad junction town. The community’s growth centered in large part on the textile industry, and, by 1910, Gastonia had 11 cotton mills. In 1911, the community doubled in size when it annexed the huge Loray Mill, once the largest textile mill in the South, and its surrounding settlements. That year, the community also became the county seat of Gaston County (which is also a Preserve America Community). During the early 20th century, the productivity of its textile mills led Gastonia to become known as the "Combined Yarn Capital" of the world.
In 2004, the City partnered with Gaston County and other public and private entities to hold a symposium and associated events to mark the 75th anniversary of the Loray Mill Strike, a violent strike that is famous in labor history. In part, the symposium was designed to help people see the historic mill building in a new light, and to encourage popular support for a planned mixed-use redevelopment of the property. Redevelopment efforts are also underway in Gastonia’s downtown historic district, where a mini-grant façade program and other initiatives have led to almost $6.9 million in reinvestment since 2001. The community’s major heritage tourism attraction is the Schiele Museum of Natural History, which focuses not only on nature, but on how people historically interacted with nature. The Backcountry Farm exhibit, which includes relocated 18th century buildings, and the reconstructed Catawba Indian Village give visitors insight into the region’s history.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2005.