The Origins of Matthews
Nestled between Charlotte and Monroe, the area now known as Matthews was unspoiled rolling woodlands with large stands of trees. By the early 1800s, this rich and inviting land attracted our early settlers, who were mainly farmers. In the vicinity lay the trading trails and game-rich hunting grounds, ancestral homes of the Waxhaw and Catawba Indians. These farmers began clearing the land for planting around 1800. Cotton grew well and soon became the primary cash crop. As the land was cleared for planting, so many tree stumps were left standing that the early settlement was unofficially known as Stumptown.
From Stagecoaches to Railroads
Postal Department records show that on July 12, 1825, John Miles Fullwood was appointed area postmaster. Mr. Fullwood operated a stagecoach depot, store and post office from his home. The mail was addressed to Fullwood Station and Stumptown became known as Fullwood. Soon after the Civil War, a sawmill was established in the Fullwood area. Houses and stores continued to be built. With cotton and timber fueling the expansion, Fullwood evolved from a fledgling community into a town. By 1870, more businesses and homes began to appear.
Prior to 1874, transportation in the Fullwood area was by horse and stagecoach only. Fullwood was an important stagecoach stop between Charlotte and Monroe.The stagecoach era faded in 1874 when railroads came steaming into the area. The Central Carolina Railroad, later known as the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, ran spur tracks off their main Wilmington-Tennessee line through the small town. The spur connected Fullwood with Wilmington to the east and Rutherford to the west. The first train rolled into town on Dec. 15, 1874. The Railroad named the stop Matthews in honor of Edward Watson Matthews, a director in the company. With the first train came great change to the sleepy little town. Now farmers, merchants and citizens were connected to other areas of North Carolina and the United States.
By 1875, mail was addressed to the Matthews Station and the name Fullwood gradually disappeared. The water tank, painted by the depot, was actually located one-fourth mile down the tracks in the area called Tank Town, now the Crestdale area. The depot, which is located to the right of the current library, was constructed in the late 1880s by the Carolina Central Railway.
The Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were all organized in 1877. They still flourish in Matthews along with many churches representing other faiths.
In 1879, Matthews was incorporated as a municipal corporation in the state of North Carolina. Jeremiah Solomon Reid headed a committee to secure the town charter. The town's official name became Matthews, in honor of Edward Watson Matthews. In 1880, the official census listed 191 residents.
Growth and Development
The population was growing; stores sprang up and Matthews was on its way to becoming a bustling community. In 1884, eight merchants were listed in Matthews. The charming Reid House was built in 1890 by Edward Solomon Reid. Built in the Queen Anne Style Victorian, it is now used for special events. It remained in the Reid Family almost 100 years and is now owned by the Matthews Historical Foundation. The Funderburk General Merchandise Store was built in the late 1800s and still has its original tin ceiling and brick walls. By 1901, cotton gins were busy handling the local harvest. Three general stores, a bank, a drug store, a hotel, gristmill, livery stable and blacksmith shop formed the heart of Matthews. The first telephones were installed when a privately-owned switchboard was brought to town. It served about twenty subscribers.
Matthews continued to grow, and the railroad remained an important and integral part of the community. Matthews's modern brick school opened in 1907. A building of up-to-date design, it was named by the NC General Assembly as one of the only two Mecklenburg County schools designated as a rural public high school.The Matthews Drug Company relocated to its new location at the corner of Trade and John Streets in 1910. The center of town activities, it served the citizens’ needs with fountain service, doctor's offices, dairy products, ice delivery and bus tickets. It was destroyed by fire in 1972.
In 1918, the Matthews African-American School opened in Tank Town, now the Crestdale community, serving local students. It closed in 1966 with integration and the building burned in 1975. Crestdale dates to the 1860s and is one of North Carolina’s oldest African American communities.
By the early 1920s, Matthews was surrounded by cotton fields. Cotton was king and ginning was big business. Several businesses operated gins in town. The Renfrows, who had established a general store by 1900, started their cotton gin in 1906 and eventually had four gins working in the same building. The Matthews Livery Stable and Bank of Matthews were town focal points during this time period. Built by the Funderburks in the early 1900s, they survived fire, the Depression and a robbery. In 1976, BB&T and the Bank of Matthews merged. The decision was made to demolish these landmarks to accommodate a new bank building.
By 1926, electric service had come to Matthews. Many citizens worked diligently to acquire rights-of-way and permission for lines and poles. The Matthews School was remodeled in 1912 and again in 1928 to fit the growing needs of the community. The Matthews Public Library has been an important part of our past for over 80 years. It first opened its doors in the 1920s on the second floor room above the Matthews Drug Company. Outgrowing the room, it moved to the basement of the same building. Before the library moved to the livery stable in 1933, it occupied a corner of Renfrow's Store. By the 1950s, more space was needed and in 1957 it opened at 124 West John St., next to the Reid House.
The New Century
Today, Matthews's population has grown to 28,000 citizens. Keeping pace with development in the area, Matthews's city limits now encompass 13 square miles. There are hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, recreational facilities and a hospital. In 1996, the National Register of Historic Places listed 10 downtown buildings in Matthews. Known as Matthews Commercial District, they comprise a small, but remarkably intact, collection of structures dating from the late 19th to the early 20th century.
On Oct. 2, 2000, the ground breaking ceremony for the new Matthews Town Hall and Library took place with Mayor Lee Myers, town council members and Mecklenburg County library officials turning the first shovels of land. A partnership was established between the Town and the PLCMC (Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County) to work together to build the new library. A Library Furnishings Committee was established to raise the $150,000 (Matthews's portion) necessary to furnish the new facility. On Sept. 30, 2001, the new Matthews Town Hall and Library was dedicated.On March 8, 2004, Matthews celebrated its 125th year as a town. Matthews has grown from 191 citizens in 1880 to a population of 28,000.
What was true in 1879 is still true today. Matthews is a special place to live, work and raise a family.