Shelby, North Carolina

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The City of Pleasant Living

Warmly nicknamed the “City of Pleasant Living,” the city of Shelby, NC is a small city located in the western region of North Carolina. This city is situated between two counties, Cleveland County and Rutherford County. It is located in what is known as the “Metrolina” region of North Carolina.

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The city of Shelby is populated with upwards of about 20,323 people, based on numbers from the 2010 Census. This makes it the 43rd most populated city in all of North Carolina. Shelby’s population has grown at a rate of 4.34% since 2000. This rate is lower than both the state and national population growth averages. Shelby NC has a population density of about 1,117 people per square mile. Geographically, the city itself has a land area of approximately 21.08 square miles, and a water area of about 0.04 square miles.

The median household income in Shelby is $31,795, and has grown by a rate of 8.35% since 2000. Like the population growth rate, this rate is lower than the state and national average rates. The median house value in Shelby is $108,200, a 36.33% increase since 2000. Shelby’s public school districts are considered to be higher quality than those in other parts of North Carolina. However, the crime rate of Shelby NC is 3,098.12, a rate that is much higher than North Carolina’s crime rate (1,957.35) and the United States’ crime rate (1,723.80).

The city of Shelby has historic roots that go back hundreds of years. Southern Appalachian American Indians, such as the Cherokee Nation, previously occupied the area.  When Hernando de Soto’s Spanish expedition arrived in North Carolina, they visited several American Indian towns in the western part of North Carolina. French, British, and American explorers followed.

In the 1750’s, years after the first explorers set foot in North Carolina, European settlers started arriving in the western region of North Carolina that would later become the city of Shelby. Most Shelby settlers were actually originally Pennsylvania settlers from Scotland, Ireland and Germany, who moved south to Virginia and the Carolinas after settling the Pennsylvania region.  Virginia settlers followed suit, and many native Pennsylvanians and Virginians married, resulting in many famed influential Shelby families—the Blantons, Gardners, Webbs, Roysters, Wrays, Youngs, McBrayers, and more.

Shelby, NC was officially named a town in 1843. The name of the town came from Revolutionary War Hero, Isaac Shelby. The early growth and development of the city was mainly because of its designation as county seat. However, even with this title, the town had little growth during the years before the Civil War, due to several factors like poor roads and no rail connections, which delayed the development of trade and industry in Shelby. When the Civil War began, Shelby was described as being bare, with just a few scattered wooden buildings and a brick courthouse.

Shelby, NC became an area dominated by religious groups in the antebellum era. It is known for a fact that the Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian congregations at least were present in pre-Civil War Shelby. Later on, the Baptist citizens of Shelby became the most influential and widespread denomination.

The Civil War had a great impact on the town of Shelby and the surrounding Cleveland County. Many of the citizens served in the Confederate Army, and the town was badly shaken when a large group of Union soldiers entered in the spring of 1865. The 6000-strong force pillaged Shelby and its surrounding areas, taking food, supplies, and even property. However, although the townspeople were disturbed, the town suffered minimal physical damage, and did not have to rebuild like so many other areas did. In 1865, soon after the Confederate surrender, federal troops entered the town and occupied the Courthouse Square, which was located at the heart of Shelby.

The post-Civil War Reconstruction Period came with many changes, both political and social, to the Shelby area. Throughout the initial phases of Reconstruction, much of Shelby’s economy remained the same. The prominent businesses were carpenters, blacksmiths, grocers, tailors, and butchers. Flour mills were abundant, and a few lawyers, druggists, and physicians were scattered throughout the town. However, Shelby’s industry began to pick up towards the end of Reconstruction, assisted by industrialists and inventors from the north. Throughout the 1880’s, much of Shelby’s economy was based on Cleveland County’s farmers. Principal crops included corn, tobacco, wheat, cotton, oats, potatoes, vegetables, rye, and sorghum cane.

As Shelby’s economy began to grow and flourish, pride and a sense of community began to grow within its citizens, and many clubs and organizations were formed. In 1897, said organizations included the YMCA, the Woodmen of the World, the Masonic Lodge, the United Camp of Confederate Veterans, and the Knights of Pythias. The women of Shelby NC organized a literary club in 1894, and this club is considered to be the first literary society for women in North Carolina.

A political movement referred to as the “Shelby Dynasty” began in the 1880’s, influencing the town, the state, and the country. The population of Shelby dramatically increased in the years between 1920 and 1930, which in turn caused an incredible increase in buildings. Churches, homes, and other buildings began to pop up all around Shelby. Also in the 1920’s was a peak in the production of cotton in Cleveland County, boosting Shelby’s economy.

The first annual Cleveland County Fair was held in the 1920’s and continues to this day. This fair, held in Shelby, in Shelby is the largest one in North Carolina, with over 200,000 visitors annually. Shelby, NC also hosts the Livermush Expo, which was first held in Cleveland County in 1987, and celebrates what is proclaimed by the Shelby City Council as the “most delicious, most economical and most versatile of meats.” Additionally, the city of Shelby hosts The Foothill’s Merry Go Round Festival annually at the Shelby City Park, a tradition that began in 1998.

Some events that are newer to Shelby, NC are the Alive After Five Outdoor Concert (live music); the American Legion World Series tournament; the Shelby Club Day; and the annual Shelby Hamfest, which is held by Shelby’s Amateur Radio Club. Other attractions that Shelby offers include The Don Gibson Theater, the beautiful and expansive 150-acre Shelby City Park, and the Earl Scruggs Center: Music and Stories from the American South.

Many notable people and athletes reside in, or are natives of, the city of Shelby. Some Shelby-native athletes include Olympic Silver Medalist Manteo Mitchell; Major League Baseball players Tom Wright, Norris Hopper, and Bill Champion; NFL players Bobby Bell, Manny Fernandez, Charlie Justice, Cliff Washburn and Mel Phillips. Other notable people include Senator Kay Hagan; Pulitzer Prize winner Hatcher Hughes; renowned banjo player and composer Earl Scruggs; and Doug Limerick, newscaster for ABC.

The city of Shelby is surprisingly present in modern pop culture. The famous film “The Hunger Games” was filmed in Shelby, as well as the film adaptation of the book Blood Done Sign My Name. A fictional version of Shelby is used as the setting of a popular comedy show on HBO, Eastbound & Down. Additionally, Shelby is stated as being the hometown of characters in the ABC Family television show Make It or Break It.

As aforementioned, the city of Shelby is known as the City of Pleasant Living. This city contains a mixture of small, family owned mom and pop shops, retail chains, and corporations. In 1970, Shelby NC was designated as an “All American City.”  In 1980, Shelby was named as one of the first “Main Street Communities.” 

The citizens of Shelby NC have easy access to the Blue Ridge Mountains as well as the coastal areas of North Carolina and South Carolina. The city of Shelby has a central and popular City Park, which contains an Olympic swimming pool, a 9-hole golf course, a miniature train, and even a vintage 1919 carousel. The main employer in Shelby and Cleveland County is the Cleveland Regional Medical Center. Other major employers in the area include Cleveland County Schools; Eaton Corporation; Curtiss-Wright Controls, Inc.; Hurst Rescue Systems; Wal-Mart Distribution; PPG Industries, Inc.; and Ultra Machine and Fabrication.

Shelby, NC can be reached by plane through the Charlotte Douglas Airport, and the Shelby Municipal Airport, or by train through Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Freight Trains. It can also be reached by automobile through travel on the major highways: I-77, I-26, I-40, I-85, US 74, NC 150, NC 226, and NC 18. Next time you’re traveling part west of Charlotte, be sure to visit Shelby, North Carolina – the City of Pleasant Living and probably the city of pleasant visiting as well!