Cleveland County


Located 35 miles from Charlotte, Cleveland County was formed in 1841 from Rutherford and Lincoln counties. The county gets its name from Col. Benjamin Cleveland, a Revolutionary War hero at the Battle of King’s Mountain. The county seat of Shelby was incorporated in 1843 and named after another war hero at the Battle of King’s Mountain, Col. Isaac Shelby.

Cotton and textile manufacturing served as the main economic drivers as the county developed. By the mid-20th century, Cleveland was the leading county in the state for cotton production. Shortly after cotton peaked, it began to decline due to infestations from boll weevils and droughts. While the county’s economy today is widely diversified, manufacturing continues to play a role with more than 40% of the county’s workforce employed in the manufacturing sector.

The county is home to Gardner-Webb University, located in Boiling Springs. The private Christian university began as Boiling Springs High School in 1905 and originated as a partnership between the Kings Mountain Baptist Association and the Sandy Run Baptist Association. The high school became Boiling Springs College in 1928. In 1942, former Governor O. Max Gardner and his wife Fay became very involved in the college and offered time and financial support. The Board of Trustees voted to name the university Gardner-Webb College in their honor. The college became a university in 1993.

Politically, the county has a rich and storied history. The Shelby Dynasty controlled much of North Carolina politics from 1929-1949 and produced two governors from Shelby: O. Max Gardner in 1928 and his brother-in-law Clyde R. Hoey in 1936. The Shelby Dynasty represented a more conservative and moderate sect of the Democratic Party and backed winning candidates up and down the ballot. Their reign came to an end in 1948, when liberal Kerr Scott ran on a platform to fix the public schools and repair the roads and won the gubernatorial election, defeating the Shelby Dynasty who had been resistant to New Deal politics following the war.

Cleveland County voted Democratic in every presidential election until 1968 when the county supported George Wallace. In 1972 the county supported Nixon but returned to backing the Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter in both 1976 and 1980. However, that was the last time the county went for a Democrat and it has supported Republicans at the presidential level since. In 2008, John McCain carried the county by 20 points. However, that same year, down-ballot races were much closer: Elizabeth Dole narrowly defeated Shelby-native Kay Hagan by less than a percentage point in the US Senate race, and Democrats Walter Dalton (Lt. Gov), Roy Cooper (AG), Elaine Marshall (SOS) and Janet Cowell (Treasurer) all won their respective races in the county. In 2012, Mitt Romney also carried the county by 20 points, but the county also went big for down-ballot Republicans. In the 2022 race for US Senate, Ted Budd carried the county by nearly 35 points.


County Seat: Shelby
Biggest Cities:
  • Shelby
  • Kings Mountain
  • Boiling Springs
  • Fallston
  • Waco
  • Kingstown
Media Market: Charlotte

Elected Officials

County Data