The Belmont Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The history of the Belmont Historic District is significant in the areas of community development, commerce, transportation, education, and architecture beginning in 1873. At this time, the Atlanta and Charlotte Airline completed its line through a fueling station and site of a railroad bridge that had been established by supervising engineer John Garibaldi some three years earlier. The period of significance extends to 1946 and during those seventy-three years, the railroad settlement that was named Belmont in 1886 emerged as a ranking textile mill town among the many in Gaston County and the Piedmont region of North Carolina. In 1900, Belmont was a small railroad community with a population of only 145, but with the organization of Chronicle Mills in 1901, the town began its rise as one of the premier cotton manufacturing centers. Particularly through the efforts of local leaders Robert L. Stowe, Sr., his brother, Samuel Pinckney Stowe, and Abel Caleb Lineberger, Belmont grew from a rural community to an urbanized manufacturing town with twenty mills and 3,793 residents by 1930.
Just prior to the rise of the textile industry in the town, Catholic missionary Bishop James Gibbons established an abbey, convent and two missionary schools in the newly-formed railroad community. Although the Catholic population of the southern Piedmont was minuscule and the growth of the religious community in Belmont was slow, the beachhead established by Bishop Gibbons prospered enough to allow the founding of a men's school that became known as Belmont Abbey College (National Register 1993). In a 1892 women's school named Sacred Heart Academy was established, and in 1899, was installed in Mercedes Hall located at the north end of the district.
The Belmont Historic District encompasses the central business district as well as residential neighborhoods built during the textile boom period of the early twentieth century. Uniquely cohesive, the Belmont Historic District epitomizes the prosperity and urban growth that accompanied the rise of the textile industry in Gaston County and the region. The Belmont Historic District features grand houses of the mill owners, such as the monumental Abel Caleb Lineberger, Sr. House (411 N. Main Street), an elegant Renaissance Revival style house designed by noted Charlotte architect C.C. Hook and set among grounds designed by landscape architect Earl S. Draper. It also features streetscapes of houses occupied by the mill managers, prominent merchants, and professionals who built solid, well-designed houses that run a gamut of early twentieth century styles, from the handsome transitional Queen Anne house built for DeLambert Stowe in 1910 (28 West Woodrow Avenue), to the 1935 Colonial Revival Richard Cromlish House (12 W. Woodrow Avenue). An array of well-preserved Bungalows, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival cottages were built for the skilled tradesmen, shopkeepers, and clerks that were associated with the mills, the railroad, and the commercial businesses that flourished in the community during the first half of the twentieth century. Main Street near its intersection with the railroad tracks developed into a business area of one- to three-story brick commercial buildings in the early years of the twentieth century. The 1907 (former) Belmont Hotel at 21-25 North Main Street is typical of the commercial buildings in the district with its brick elevation enlivened with segmental arch windows and a molded cornice along the flat roof line. The collection of architecture in the Belmont Historic District is rounded out by early twentieth century brick Gothic Revival churches; a Depression-era community center and city park; the 1939 Art Moderne high school (100 block North Central Avenue); and the 1939 WPA Colonial Revival Post Office (115 N. Main Street, NR 1995).
The Belmont Historic District excludes the early twentieth century cotton mills and the neighborhoods of mill houses. Concentrated on the north and east sides of the town, near the railroads, river, and early highways, many of the mills and their associated worker housing have been substantially altered or demolished in recent decades. The loss of the historic worker housing stock is one of a number of recent actions that have led the town leaders to begin a comprehensive planning process that will employ downtown revitalization and preservation planning as a means to preserve the historic quality of the core of this community that lies within ten miles of the booming Charlotte metropolitan area.
Historical Background/Community Development, Commerce, Transportation, and Education Contexts
Belmont is located within Gaston County on a peninsula formed by the Catawba River and the South Fork of the Catawba River. Like most of the North Carolina Piedmont, Gaston County was first settled in the mid-eighteenth century, primarily by Scotch-Irish and German migrants from Pennsylvania. The German settlers generally occupied the northern and western portions of the county while the Scotch-Irish located in the eastern and southern sections. As a result of increasing settlement during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, modern Gaston County was established in 1846 from a division of Lincoln County (Brengle, 1982: 3).
Until the development of the textile industry after the Civil War, Gaston County, like other counties of the Piedmont, was agricultural, comprised principally of small, self-sufficient farms. Poor soils and limited river access to the coast hampered the development of sizable market towns and large-scale agriculture until the construction of rail lines in the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to the introduction of rail service, the limitations on farming and the relative isolation of the region had fostered some forms of small-scale manufacturing, including textile production, to serve local demands. Gaston County was particularly well-suited to cotton manufacturing because of its numerous, fast moving rivers and streams for operating water powered mills. Moses H. Rhyne and Caleb, Laban, and Lewis Lineberger formed Woodlawn Mill (also known as Pinhook Mill), the first textile mill in the county, which began production in 1848 on the South Fork River. At the same time, local farmers, Jasper and Edwin Stowe, built a cotton mill and store on their 1,100 acre farm, also bordering the South Fork River. A third antebellum textile mill, Mountain Island Mill, was built in 1849 near Mount Holly to produce yarn and cloth. Although the absence of railroad transportation during the antebellum period limited the markets for Gaston County textiles to North and South Carolina, the mills thrived nonetheless, providing yarn for domestic weaving. On the eve of the Civil War, these three mills had propelled Gaston County to fourth place (behind Cumberland County, Alamance County, and Randolph County) in textile production in North Carolina (Brengle 1982: 10).
Transportation had begun to improve prior to the war as railroad construction campaigns were started across the state. Although only a few lines within the Piedmont were completed by 1860, the new railroads set the stage for later industrial development (Gilbert, 1982: 8). A section of the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad (later the Seaboard Airline Railway), running through Gaston County on route from Cherryville to Charlotte, opened before the war, giving Gaston County an east-west link. The war further demonstrated the need for rail construction throughout the South, particularly north-south lines to link the southern hubs of Richmond, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Confederate strategists had determined that a line between Greensboro and Richmond was a priority, with its ultimate connections to Atlanta through Charlotte. Although rail construction did not resume until after the war, the Richmond and Danville Railroad (which acquired the Atlanta and Charlotte Airline in 1881 and reorganized as part of the Southern Railway system in 1894) began expanding southward in 1868, and in 1870, neighboring Mecklenburg County passed a bond to raise money for the new line. With seventy percent of all North Carolina freight moving north to south through Greensboro and Charlotte by 1870, the railroads pursued aggressive acquisition, consolidation, and construction plans in order to capture this traffic. In 1871, a group of northern and Virginia capitalists acquired both the Richmond and Danville Railroad and the Piedmont Railroad, which extended from Danville to Greensboro, as well as negotiated a lease of the North Carolina Railroad for the corridor from Greensboro to Charlotte (Lefler and Newsome, 1954: 486).
At the same time, the Atlanta and Charlotte Airline began building a line north from Atlanta to Charlotte which included a segment through the South Fork peninsula of Gaston County. The stage was set for the development of Belmont after the peninsula was selected as the site for a fueling station and railroad bridge across the Catawba River. In 1870, John Garibaldi, an Italian immigrant and supervising engineer for the Mecklenburg Iron Works of Charlotte, oversaw construction of the new rail facilities. Consequently, the rail stop became known as Garibaldi or Garibaldi's Station. By 1873, the Atlanta and Charlotte Airline was completed between Charlotte and Spartanburg A third railroad, the Chester and Lenoir Narrow Gauge Railroad, ran north to south, giving the county direct access to Spartanburg. With the flurry of rail construction during Reconstruction, small railroad towns, including Garibaldi's Station, began to emerge in Gaston County (Lefler and Newsome, 1954: 486-488).
Prior to the introduction of rail service, the self-sufficient farm economy of Gaston County had supported few commercial operations. The new rail line through the South Fork spurred local residents, Abram Stowe, Alex Beatty, Burrell Fite, and Burt Gallant, to open general stores in the area with a post office occupying part of Gallant's establishment. A log house, on one side of the tracks, was operated by former slaves, Manuel and Sue Stowe, as a lodge for travellers. Nearby, the promise of a rail station led local farmer, George Ragan, to open a mercantile operation near Wright's Station (later Lowell) in 1872, and in 1875, Ragan and Jonathan Gullick opened a store, cotton gin, and grist mill near Garibaldi's Station. During the late 1880s, the new Richmond and Danville Railroad station master, W.B. Puett, and his brother-in-law, Samuel Pinckney Stowe, built a new store adjacent to the depot (Yockey, 1995: 30, 34).
Other construction activity followed the introduction of railroad service, including a Roman Catholic abbey, convent, and two missionary schools, all built north of Garibaldi's Station. Despite the almost total absence of a Roman Catholic population in the region, Catholics began missionary efforts in North Carolina after the war by establishing a vicariate overseen by Bishop James Gibbons. In 1869, Gibbons issued a wide appeal to priests for the North Carolina missions; at the same time, Gibbons also made a plea to a newly formed Sisters of Mercy convent in Charleston to form a Catholic school in Wilmington, the first in the state. In 1872, Father Jeremiah O'Connell, a missionary for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston and a proponent of Catholic schools, purchased the 500 acre Caldwell plantation, less than one mile north of Garibaldi's Station, for the Benedictine monks of Saint Vincent's Archabbey of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. O'Connell faced formidable obstacles in establishing his school in an almost exclusively Protestant region and state. Throughout North Carolina, Catholic churches were few in number and small in size. In Gaston County, there was only one small Catholic church near Mount Holly, formed for a small group of Irish Catholics who had migrated to the region to work in the iron mines. Sponsorship by a religious order had been slow in coming, but O'Connell was finally able to convince the Benedictines of Saint Vincent's Archabbey to undertake the mission.
Opening in 1876, the new religious community was called Mary Help Abbey, but growth was slow (in 1879, the school still had no North Carolinians among its student body). When the monastery became an abbey in 1884, enrollment stood at only twenty-seven students. A new leader, Father Leo Haid, was appointed to head the abbey in 1885, and Haid began a building campaign as well as an outreach program to the surrounding Protestant community. Abbot Haid also built St. Leo's Military College in 1890 (now demolished, but originally located at the intersection of Wilkinson Boulevard and North Main Street). In addition, Father Haid petitioned local leaders to change the name of the town because of its associations with Italian leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had been instrumental in prying control of Rome away from the pope. The abbey leader proposed the name, St. Mary's, to which local citizens objected, and in 1886, the community was renamed Belmont. In 1887, the Sisters of Mercy at Wilmington founded a convent and girls' school on a parcel south of the abbey. The men's school became known as Belmont Abbey College and the women's, which opened in 1892, Sacred Heart Academy (Survey Files, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1979). Despite these ambitious undertakings, the establishment of the abbey and its associated schools did little to spur growth and development in Belmont. In 1890, Roman Catholics comprised less than two percent of the Piedmont population, and the absence of a Catholic base from which to draw kept these educational facilities small (Ayers, 1992: 498).
The development of Belmont and Gaston County were a direct result of post-Civil War industrialization. In particular, the county was well-suited to cotton manufacturing. Gaston County had both north-south and east-west rail service and proximity to Charlotte, which was emerging as a regional commercial and distribution center. The county also had proximity to raw materials and swiftly moving streams for powering the mills. Finally, the disruptions of war had left much of the region overpopulated with tenant farmers and small farm owners unable to earn a living from the land. While the railroads gave local industry a nationwide distribution system, the rural population supplied the labor for running the factories.
The Piedmont textile industry grew rapidly between 1880 and 1900, with Gaston County quickly becoming the premiere cotton manufacturing center of the region. Soon after the turn of the century, Gaston County had more textile factories than any other county in the South. The textile-producing capacity of the county expanded from ten cotton mills in 1890 to forty-eight by 1910. By the 1920s, Gaston County, with ninety textile plants, became the number one producer of textiles in North Carolina and the third largest producer in the United States. (Lefler and Newsome, 1954: 476, 479; Pope, 1942; Williams, 1981).
In contrast to a number of other industries, textile manufacturing succeeded in the South, in part, because of the relatively low levels of capitalization required for initial operation. Southern mills in the nineteenth century were primarily organized and capitalized by a group of local men, who pooled their funds to build the mills and then used profits to underwrite what were often rapid expansions. Most of these early manufacturers in Gaston County had connections to the antebellum mills. A.P. Rhyne, George A. Gray, and Abel C. Lineberger had all begun at the Woodlawn Mill, and all, along with R.C.G. Love, George W. Ragan, and C.E. Hutchison, were Gaston County natives. Others, notably Rufus Yancey McAden, who founded McAden Mills in McAdenville, and Stonewall Jackson Durham, founder of the Southern Cotton Mills in Bessemer City, came from nearby Piedmont counties. Many, like R.L. and Samuel Stowe of Belmont, were merchants (Brengle, 1982: 15).
Until the mid-1880s, the mills in Gaston County were all operated by water power, and the use of falling water to generate power dictated that the mills be located on rivers or fast-moving streams. However, the development of the Southern coal industry made steam power feasible by the 1890s (Ayers, 1992: 111). The Gastonia Cotton Manufacturing Company was built in 1887 as a steam powered facility. As this new facility demonstrated, the use of steam power freed mills from their waterside sites. With the adoption of the new technology (sixty percent of all Southern mills were steam powered by 1900), mills were increasingly built near railroads for ease in shipping and receiving (Ayers, 1992: 112).
As new mills were built near rail facilities, a number of Gaston County towns were transformed from small, rail-oriented communities to large, manufacturing towns. According to the U.S. Census, Gaston County had ninety-six manufacturing firms and more than fifty percent of the working population employed in manufacturing by 1900 (Woodward, 1951: 137; Cope and Wellman 1961: 141). Gastonia, in particular, boomed as a center of cotton manufacturing. The population of the town jumped from 236 in 1880 to 4,610 in 1900, and more than doubled to 5,759 by 1910 (Cope and Wellman, 1961: 136). As the mills drew poor farm families from nearby counties, other towns such as McAdenville, King's Mountain, Mount Holly, Bessemer City, Lowell, and Cherryville all experienced rapid increases in populations as cotton mills went into operation.
Despite the success and economic boom times that textiles generated in Gaston County, Belmont was slow to participate in the new industrialization. Incorporated in 1895, Belmont was the only town in the county without a textile mill in 1900, and as a result, its population stood at only 145. Local merchants, Samuel P. and Robert L. Stowe, were eager to build a cotton mill in Belmont. The Stowe brothers had entered the textile industry in 1899 when they were approached by R. Pinckney Rankin, George Gray, and John F. Love to invest in their Gastonia spinning mill. Ozark Mills, as the Gastonia operation was called, was highly successful, and the Stowes' investment tripled in value. By 1901, the Stowe brothers began raising local capital to build a mill in Belmont. With Rankin, Gray, and Love, the Stowes formed the Chronicle Mills. The new company purchased the homeplace of Revolutionary war hero, Major William Chronicle, (east of the historic district on the south side of Catawba Street, north of the railroad) as the site of the mill (Cope and Wellman, 1961: 144; Sanborn Map Company, 1929). Lincolnton resident, D.E. Rhyne, became a major shareholder, with the proviso that experienced mill manager, Abel Caleb Lineberger, was brought in the oversee operations.
The Stowes were aggressive in adopting innovations and expanding operations in their Belmont mills. The steam-powered Chronicle Mills began operations in 1902 to produce carded yarns, but soon converted to the finer combed yarns, and in 1908, was expanded from 5,000 to 10,000 spindles. Located nearby, the Imperial Mill began operations in 1907 as the first electrically powered mill in the state. A third Belmont mill, the Majestic, with a 13,000 spindle capacity, became the first Southern mill designed to produce fine combed yards on ring spindles. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, Belmont was an important textile center (Yockey, 1995: 53-54).
The flurry of industrial activity between 1900 and 1910 sparked much growth and development in Belmont. By 1910, the town had a population of roughly 1,000, ten times the census count of 1900, and the town extended its corporate limits from a quarter mile radius from the railroad crossing to a two-thirds radius. In response to rapid growth and increasing prosperity, Gaston County and Belmont began road construction campaigns to improve local transportation and commerce. In neighboring Mecklenburg County, D.A. Tompkins had spearheaded a road campaign to macadamize the Mecklenburg County roads, and in 1900 Gaston County followed suit. In order to quicken the pace at which road improvements in Belmont would be made, town leaders began soliciting private contributions to the road fund. In 1903, the General Assembly of North Carolina authorized the funds to grade and pave the streets and sidewalks of Belmont (Yockey, 1995: 56).
While the town made improvements to the infrastructure, new houses, stores, churches, schools, banks, and hotels were being constructed to serve the expanding population. Denied employment in the mills, African-American builders undertook much of this construction activity while other African-Americans supplied coal and wood to the rapidly developing mill villages. In 1906, George Gullick built the two-story Belmont Hotel at 21-25 North Main Street. By 1910, an electric interurban line between Charlotte and Gastonia was completed, and although the main line of the Piedmont and Northern Railroad, as the new interurban was called, bypassed Belmont, a spur line was built to the town in 1916. Although much of the Piedmont and Northern trackage has been removed, the Mission Revival Piedmont and Northern Railroad Depot stands at 4 N. Main Street in the heart of the business district. New brick churches, most executed in the Gothic Revival style, were erected to serving burgeoning congregations. Three one-room school buildings were replaced by the large, two-story Belmont Central School (now demolished). In 1912, a high school was added, and in 1916, all frame schools were replaced by brick buildings (Survey Files, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1979).
Main Street, particularly the section north of the Southern Railway tracks, developed as the commercial center of Belmont. A Ford dealership was opened, while the Stowe Brothers Company store (6 N. Main Street), built in 1904, was sold to R.S. Armstrong, G.G. Dixon, and W.H. Horseley. George Ragan's firm was bought in 1915 by G.W. Howe, and in 1927, Eli and Sidney Cohen, Manchester, England natives, formed the first of their chain of Cohen Brothers stores which operated throughout North Carolina. The Belmont Drug Company (31 N. Main Street), owned by R.B. Suggs, and a funeral home, owned by W.H. and D.P. Stowe, were also located on Main Street. Lee Chapman began a furniture building shop, the Belmont Cabinet Shop, on Catawba Street. House building was financed by the Belmont Building and Loan, organized in 1915, while the Bank of Belmont (32 N. Main Street) constructed a new three-story building in 1926 (Brengle, 1982: 257).
World War I created boom times for the Gaston County and Belmont textile mills. The war not only increased demand, but a halt to European production created a high demand for American threads and fabrics. With the mills running on a twenty-four hour schedule, reputedly some products were even sold on contract before the cotton was planted or the mills built. Eight mills alone were built in 1916, a banner year for Gaston County. In Belmont, the Stowe-Lineberger-Rhyne consortium quickly began construction of a fourth mill, the National, and by 1915, a fifth, the Climax Spinning Company, was opened, giving Belmont a production capacity of more than 60,000 spindles. Simultaneously, the company began erecting its office building (R.L. Stowe Mills Office, 3 Catawba Street) at the corner of Catawba and Main streets to centralize all mill administration. By the end of the war, Gaston County had more cotton mills than any other county in the U.S. (Yockey, 1995: 60)
While the pre-World War I era of mill building and production brought prosperity, the 1920s were spectacular economic times in Gaston County. The combined populations of the nine incorporated municipalities and the unincorporated mill villages accounted for approximately two-thirds of the county population. In the thirty years since 1890, Gaston County had become a decidedly urban, industrial region. Textiles had transformed the county and had also increasingly tied Gaston economically to Charlotte, the distribution and financial center for this new textile empire. In addition to the rail connections between Gaston County and Charlotte, the first highway in the state was constructed between Charlotte and Gastonia, now known as Wilkinson Boulevard, the route runs along the north side of Belmont (Cope and Wellman, 1961: 163).
During the 1920s, the construction of new mills continued unabated. Thirteen mills were incorporated in 1920, seven in Gastonia and four in Belmont. In 1919, druggist R.B. Suggs joined A.C. Lineberger in forming the Acme Spinning Company. In the same year, two other mills, Sterling Spinning Company and Crescent Spinning, were formed by the Stowes and Linebergers. The next year, Linford Mills, created by former Tuckaseegee Mill employee, J.E. Ford, and Will Puett, began operations. In a town of 3,000, there were twelve textile mills by the early 1920s. By the end of the decade, other mills or textile processing plants had been established including Belmont Processing, to mercerize, bleach, and dye yarns; Belmont Fabric Company, where the waste from the combed yarn mills was woven; Stowe Thread Company; Belmont Hosiery Mills; Hatch Full-Fashioned Hosiery; and Knit Products Corporation.
The prosperity of the 1920s had again spurred population growth of roughly fifty percent (Cope and Wellman, 1961: 177). Gastonia had 17,093 residents while Belmont had become the second largest town in the county with a population of 4,121 in 1930. However, the boom times of the 1920s were quickly ended by the Depression. In this rapidly expanding, industrial county, the Depression caused great hardship; by 1931, one of every two mill workers was unemployed. Most of the Belmont mills remained open although running short weeks, but Belmont Fabric Company went into receivership, and Belmont Hosiery Mill came close to failure. The McAden Mills in nearby McAdenville closed its doors in 1935. In 1932 and 1933 when national industrial production had dropped by fifty percent, banks were failing nationwide. The Bank of Belmont remained open only because all deposits were personally guaranteed by R.L. Stowe (Brengle, 1982: 16).
Economic hardships and the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which created a controversial system of industrial regulation, gave union organizers their first foothold among Gaston County workers. The National Textile Workers Union was organized in 1928, and in 1929, an organizer for the Communist Party led a textile workers union strike against the Loray Mill in Gastonia. The Rhode Island owners of the mill had laid off a thousand workers with no reduction in production. Attracting national attention, riots ensued, and strikers were evicted from mill-owned houses. The Gastonia police chief was killed, and strike leaders were jailed. In 1934, the United Textile Workers focused their efforts on Gaston County. On September 1, 1934, the union organized a strike of all textile workers, and ninety-two Gaston County mills were shut down, including all the Belmont mills. As the national strike dragged on, with nearly 500,000 workers off the job, Governor Ehringhaus sent in the state militia, and a number of people were killed. The strike lasted three weeks, but the union made little lasting headway with workers (Cope and Wellman, 1961: 176-177; Glass, 1992: 68-73; Hall, 1987: 187, 299).
The tumult of the 1930s caused many textile companies to fail; other companies were acquired by larger entities. Textiles, Inc. was formed in 1931 from fifteen independent mills. R.L. Stowe, owner or part-owner of eight mills, decided to expand by purchasing the defunct McAden Mills with a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Stowe, who co-owned the property with his son, Daniel, and his son-in-law, William J. Pharr, made improvements to the property just as production began to accelerate at the start of World War II (Brengle, 1982: 16).
Although the National Recovery Act was controversial, the Works Progress Administration provided much needed employment and made infrastructure improvements in Belmont. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the W.P.A. installed sewer lines, paved six streets, built the (Former) U.S. Post Office at 115 N. Main Street in 1939 (National Register), and constructed the thirteen-acre Belmont Park (between Southern Railway tracks and Myrtle Street) with grandstands, bath house, and ball parks. In 1940, the Southern Railway built a wider bridge over the tracks at Central Avenue near the recently completed high school, the (Former) Belmont High School (100 block North Central Avenue) (Yockey, 1995: 101).
In 1945, the town limits were extended to include the South Fork Manufacturing Company, Hatch Full Fashioned Hosiery, Sacred Heart College, St. Leo's School, and portions of the Belmont Abbey property. The new extension of the town added 750 people to the population and coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of incorporation. A local newspaper article highlighting the milestones of the past fifty years noted that eighty percent of the sixteen manufacturing firms in Belmont were locally owned and operated. Another seven plants were located just outside the town limits. At the end of the war, Belmont had thirteen churches, eight schools, two colleges, six playgrounds, two movie theaters, and thirty-one manufacturing plants. The factories included fourteen spinning mills, five hosiery mills, a thread mill, a silk throwing mill, a mercerizing and finishing plant, two textile waste factories, two textile machinery plants, and a box plant. After the war, Minnie Stowe Puett donated a public library to the town which was constructed in 1947. House construction greatly increased after the war as wartime savings enabled a number of workers to move away from the mill villages (Yockey, 1995: 112-114).
By the mid-1950s, there were thirty-two industrial plants in Belmont, and the town reputedly had the largest percentage of productive workers of any town in North Carolina with an industrial payroll of $12 million. Although the State magazine praised Belmont as " ...a city of beautiful homes with lovely, tree lined streets, beautiful gardens, and landscaped lawns...," the town was overly dependent upon textile manufacturing, which accounted for sixty percent of the work force. This dependence was problematic as increasing automation and consolidations decreased the need for low-skill workers (Yockey, 1995: 121).
Although most of the mills were located within the city limits, suburban development outside the taxable area increased after the war in keeping with national trends. According to the 1960 census, the population of Belmont stood at 5,007, but the construction of Interstate 85 gave even greater residential flexibility, and the construction of a shopping center on Belmont Abbey land (north of the town center) directed commercial activity away from the Belmont central business district (Cope and Wellman, 1961: 194). The Piedmont and Northern ended passenger service in 1951, but continued to carry textile freight until 1958 when trucking forced the complete shutdown of the railroad.
By 1970, the population had dropped to 4,814 declining from the 1950 peak of 5,330. The dependence on textile manufacturing continued with nearly 100 percent of its industrial workers in 1971 employed in one of the twenty mills in or around Belmont, second only to Gastonia in the number of mills. Despite this heavy dependence, only six textile plants had been constructed in Belmont since the end of the Depression. During the 1970s, the Lineberger Foundation bought the (Former) U.S. Post Office Building (National Register) at 115 N. Main Street and donated it to the city for use as the city hall. In 1980, the population reached a forty year low of 4,607, galvanizing the town into aggressive annexation, and finally North Belmont and the entire abbey property were brought within the city limits. With the new population of 8,337, infrastructure improvements were made. In addition, the Stowes built a large spinning plant with 130,000 square feet of manufacturing space and named for long-time Chronicle Mill employee, Raymond S. Helms. At the same time, a number of the Stowe and Lineberger mills were bought by the Gastonia based Parkdale Mills, ending a tradition of local ownership (Yockey, 1995: 133-134).
In the 1990s, local business and community leaders have taken a new interest in planning for Belmont. With development focused in the north end, towards Mount Holly and Wilkinson Boulevard, connecting Gastonia and Charlotte, the Belmont town center has lost much of its traffic. In order to redirect development south of Wilkinson Boulevard, the Stowe Botanical Gardens have been created on the south end of the South Point and a large area of land, also on the South Point, has been annexed and zoned for neo-traditional neighborhood development.
The Belmont Historic District clearly illustrates the textile manufacturing towns which developed in the Piedmont region of North Carolina during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reflecting the new industrial wealth, the majority of contributing architectural resources exemplify national styles popular during the early twentieth century when Belmont emerged as one of the important manufacturing towns of Gaston County. The Belmont Historic District boasts a particularly intact collection of grand houses, which epitomize the eclecticism of early twentieth century, residential design and testify to the wealth created by the new manufacturing economy. Some examples of traditional domestic forms survive in Belmont, but the town is characterized primarily by national styles of the period. The Belmont Historic District encompasses the central business district, the (Former) Piedmont and Northern Railroad station, the town park, churches, schools, community centers, and a mixture of homes for working class, middle class, and wealthy residents. The factories and mill villages, built on the north and east sides of the town near rail lines and early highways, have undergone significant alteration or demolition and are located outside the boundaries of the Belmont Historic District.
Gaston County towns began to grow in the 1870s and 1880s after the construction of the Atlanta and Charlotte Airline Railroad in 1873 spurred the development of cotton manufacturing. However, Belmont was slow to embrace the new industrialization, and the town had only 145 residents in 1900. With the development of cotton manufacturing after the turn of the century, Belmont underwent rapid growth, and the contributing resources of the Belmont Historic District reflect this dynamic period of industrial prosperity. As a result, nationally popular styles for commercial, church, and domestic buildings are well-represented within the historic district while only a scattering of traditional house types remain. The earliest surviving building in Belmont is the Abram Stowe House at 35 Catawba Street. Built soon after his return from the Civil War, Abram Stowe, who was later postmaster and mayor of Belmont, constructed this traditional frame house near his general store. Illustrating a house type once common throughout the North Carolina Piedmont, the three-bay I-house retains its weatherboard siding, exterior end chimneys, shed roofed porch, and both nine-over-six and six-over-six windows. With its Triple-A roof configuration, the McDonald House, located at 521 Franklin Street, illustrates a common regional version of the three-bay, single pile I-house. One of the few traditional houses remaining in Belmont, the frame McDonald House was built ca.1900 and retains its one-story, hip roofed porch and six-over-six windows. Built in 1898 by local merchant, George M. Gullick, the George M. Gullick House, at 123 North Main Street, also predates the textile era in Belmont. The large, two-story, frame house, with hip roof, projecting gables, asymmetrical massing, wraparound porch, and decorative shingling under the gables, represents a conservative interpretation of popular picturesque styles. (The porch was altered with Colonial Revival elements by Gullick's son in the early twentieth century.) The interior millwork and mantels also reflect the exuberance of the picturesque styles and the ready availability of architectural elements shipped by rail. Another regional version of picturesque designs is the Robert L. Stowe, Sr. House (32 Catawba Street), a one-story, L-plan dwelling built in 1899 as the first home of textile magnate, Robert Stowe. This house is typical of the L-plan houses of the late nineteenth century with its intersecting gable roof, decorative slate shingles, two-over-two windows, and porches lavishly embellished with spindlework friezes, turned posts, and sawn brackets. Unique to Belmont, the property retains a detached, frame kitchen at the rear of the house. The Stowes continued to live in this house until 1917 when they built a larger residence on North Main Street. The two-story, frame James P. Stowe House, is now situated at the rear of City Hall Alley, having been moved from its Main Street location when the (Former) U.S. Post Office (115 N. Main Street) (now the Belmont City Hall) was built in 1937. Erected in 1891, the Stowe house is a three-bay I-house with two-story, rear additions and alterations to the wraparound porch. The second story, center-bay porch is pedimented with column supports and a turned post balustrade.
As the new industrial economy spurred urban growth in Gaston County, the textile towns developed business districts of substantial commercial buildings housing increasingly specialized functions. The Belmont downtown, with retail stores, banks, professional offices, and a hotel, typified the commercial areas of these manufacturing towns during the early twentieth century. With prosperity, rows of brick commercial buildings, some reflecting current architectural trends, replaced the simple, frame buildings which had once lined Main Street.
The central business district of Belmont remains largely intact, with one- to three-story, brick buildings lining both sides of Main Street, primarily north of the railroad tracks. Most of the commercial buildings date to the first three decades of the twentieth century and have simple, brick exteriors, flat roofs, and decorative elements emphasizing the entrances and large storefront windows. The (Former) Belmont Hotel (21-25 N. Main Street), occupying 21-25 North Main Street, is typical of the commercial buildings found in Belmont. Constructed in 1907 by local merchant, George Gullick, the two-story, five-bay building has a brick exterior, segmental arch windows, and molded cornice along the flat roof. However, the first floor storefronts have been altered, and the porch has been removed. The Stowe Brothers Company (6 N. Main Street) building was built in 1904 on the east side of North Main Street adjacent to the railroad depot. The two-story building has a brick exterior, flat roof, corbelled cornice, brick pilasters, and a first floor of large storefront windows. The building has undergone recent alteration, and the segmental arch windows have been refenestrated.
By the 1920s, commercial buildings in Belmont had become more expressive of current architectural trends. Two of the grandest buildings within the business district are the Stowe Mills Office building and the elegant Bank of Belmont. Built in the early 1920s, the R.L. Stowe Mills Office Building (3 Catawba Street) housed the administrative offices for the groups of mills owned by the Stowe consortium. Symbolizing their importance to Belmont, the Stowe office building occupies a prominent position within the business district on a rise at the corner of North Main and Catawba streets. Although somewhat altered, the two-story, brick veneered building has a monumental Neoclassical Revival facade with bracketed cornice, stepped parapet, decorative window surrounds, and round arched doorway. The Bank of Belmont, organized by R.L. Stowe in 1906, built a handsome, three story, Neoclassical Revival building at 32 N. Main Street in 1926. The symmetrical facade of the first story has fluted pilasters, framing the corners and the entrance, molded cornice, a frieze with name plate, and a round arched entrance. The upper stories are simpler with buff brick walls, quoins, dentil molding, and a balustrade parapet. The lobby has marble walls and pilasters and a ribbed barrel ceiling. Near the Stowe Mills Office Building is the (Former) U.S. Post Office Building (National Register) (now the Belmont City Hall) at 115 North Main Street. Built under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration in 1939, the one-story, brick, Colonial Revival building has a slate, hip roof, a symmetrical, five-bay facade, brick pilasters, and segmental arched windows. The central entrance features a leaded glass transom and side lights delineated by slender colonettes. The interior has marble wainscoting and a mural of Major William Chronicle, a local Revolutionary War hero. The Belmont post office is identical to the post office constructed in Wallace, Duplin County, North Carolina. The Wallace post office was listed in the National Register in 1995.
A particularly noteworthy landmark of the business district is the (Former) Piedmont and Northern Railroad Depot, which occupies its original location at 4 North Main Street. Built after 1916, when a spur of the interurban line between Charlotte and Gastonia was constructed to Belmont, this Mission Revival style rail building has tan brick walls and a low pitched, hip roof covered in terra cotta tiles. The broad eaves are supported by over-sized knee brackets. Although similar in design to a demolished rail station in Charlotte, this depot is a rare example of Mission Revival architecture in the region.
The business leaders of Belmont generally built their houses on the tree-shaded streets on the north and west sides of town. North Main Street retains an intact collection of grand houses, built primarily between 1910 and 1930, which reflect the eclectic designs of the early twentieth century. A.C. Lineberger built two substantial houses on North Main, both designed by prominent Charlotte architect, Charles Christian Hook. The Lineberger residences epitomize the wealth and architectural sophistication of Belmont during the period. Built in 1910, the Abel Caleb Lineberger, Sr. House No. 1 (203 N. Main Street) is a sophisticated hybrid of Arts and Crafts elements and Colonial Revival styling. The large, frame house has a wide, steeply pitched, front gable roof, with side gables, and a broad, pedimented porch supported by heavy, box piers. The house has half-timbering under the apices, weatherboard siding on the first story, and shingling under the gables. The Abel Caleb Lineberger, Sr. House, No. 2, at 411 North Main Street, is a monumental Renaissance Revival house set within extensive estate grounds designed by Charlotte landscape architect, Earl S. Draper. Built between 1919 and 1921, the brick house is one of the more monumental expressions of the wealth generated by the textile industry. The symmetrical, nine-bay main block has a tile hip roof, with brackets, round arched doorways, with fan lights, flanking an elliptical arched entrance. The three central bays are covered by a monumental porch supported by heavy columns and capped by a balustrade. The side elevations have engaged, two tiered porches. The house grounds are enclosed by a wrought iron fence and include both formal and informal gardens, containing a gazebo and a lily pond. Similar to the first A.C. Lineberger House is the DeLambert P. Stowe House at 28 West Woodrow Avenue, an east-west street connecting North Main Street and North Central Avenue. The dwelling, constructed in 1910, has a gambrel front roof, a wraparound porch, and weatherboard and shingle siding. The Albert Hand House, at 211 North Main Street, is a large, impressive, Neoclassical dwelling with high hip roof and a bold, pedimented portico, supported by heavy Ionic columns. A hip roofed, wraparound porch on the first story is supported by columns resting on brick pedestals. Built by local contractors, Skidmore and R.F. Rankin, the house is veneered in a particularly fine quality brick, reputedly imported from Europe. Robert L. Stowe, Sr. had an impressive Colonial Revival dwelling built at 135 North Main in 1917. Like the second A.C. Lineberger house, the Robert L. Stowe House, No. 2 (135 N. Main Street) is set within a landscaped park. The two and one-half story, brick veneered house has a truncated hip roof, capped by a balustrade, and a central, front gable dormer with a delicate Palladian window. Side-gable wings have pedimented gables with fanlights, and a bold, center-bay porch is supported by Ionic columns. A porte cochere extends off the north side of the house. The wide, elliptical arched entrance has leaded glass side lights and fanlight. A four-car, brick veneered garage was added in the 1940s and has a second-story apartment.
Central Avenue, running north-south on the west side of Belmont also became a fashionable address in the early twentieth century. In 1916, Charlotte architect, J.M. McMichael designed a large, frame dwelling for J.B. Hall. Located at 15 South Central Avenue, the two-story J.B. Hall House displays a mixture of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival design elements. The J.B. Hall House has a hip roof with modillioned cornice, projecting bay, and nine-over-one and Queen Anne style windows. The central entrance features a single wood and glass door with heavy surrounds, and the hip-roofed porch is supported by wooden columns. Sited on a large, rolling lot behind a wrought iron fence is the fine Renaissance Revival home of textile magnate, S.P. Stowe, Sr. Located at 203 South Central Avenue, the Samuel Pinckney Stowe, Sr. House was built soon after World War I. The large, two and one-half story, brick dwelling has a pair of large wings extending to the rear. The main block has a green tile, hip roof, hip-roofed dormer, bracketed cornice, and a boldly executed flat-roofed porch supported by Tuscan columns and capped by a classically derived balustrade. A second porch extends from the north elevation, while a porte cochere is found along the south side. One of the most notable residences along South Central Avenue is the Lewis House at 304 S. Central Avenue. This imposing residence, set on large, landscaped grounds, displays all the hallmarks of the Tudor Revival with its steeply pitched, cross gables, half-timbering, and casement style windows.
In addition to the sophisticated residences of the mill owners, Belmont has numerous residential streets lined with Revival style cottages, large Colonial Revival dwellings, and bungalows of various types and sizes built in the early twentieth century for middle and working class residents. As opposed to the architect designed houses of the wealthy, these houses were usually built from the diverse pattern book plans or contractor designs available nationwide during the period. Most streets throughout the Belmont Historic District, such as the first block of South Central Avenue, contain a mix of architectural styles. The two-story, frame, Queen Anne residence at 15 S. Central Avenue, a two-story, brick Colonial Revival dwelling at 9 S. Central Avenue, and the Tudor Revival cottage at 5 South Central Avenue all occupy this block. The 200 block of North Central Avenue contains a variety of nationally popular styles. At 201 North Central Avenue is a one and one-half story, frame Tudor Revival cottage, while a front gable bungalow with weatherboard siding is situated at 203 N. Central Avenue. An imposing, brick veneered, two-story, Colonial Revival house with a pedimented portico is located at 211 North Central Avenue. Other streets, like the 600 block of North Central Avenue, are filled primarily with bungalows. This block features a variety of large, frame bungalows with hip-roofed, side-gable, or front-gable forms and engaged or attached, wraparound porches. Poplar Street and Bryant Street each have particularly intact collections of frame bungalows built during the mid-1920s.
The Belmont Historic District includes a number of churches, most of which date to the early twentieth century when growing congregations sparked building campaigns. Paralleling the trends in domestic design, these churches were often larger, brick edifices than their frame predecessors, and were more fully expressive of current architectural styles. The Gothic Revival became almost the favorite design choice for the new churches. The 1912 (Former) Main Street Methodist Church, at 208 South Main Street, typifies the large, brick, Gothic Revival churches in Belmont with its gable-front main-block, corner towers with pyramidal roofs, pointed arch windows, and stylized buttresses.
Two buildings within the Belmont Historic District served as social or community centers: the Belmont Masonic Lodge at 201 South Main Street and the J. Paul Ford Community Center at 40 East Woodrow Avenue. The ca.1920 Masonic lodge is a brick veneered, Colonial Revival building with a rectangular plan, gable front roof, and pedimented central pavilion. The projecting pavilion is rusticated and has a tall, but infilled, transom above the entrance. The windows on the lodge building have been infilled. The J. Paul Ford Community Center is also a brick veneered building executed in the Colonial Revival style. The one-story, hip roofed building was constructed between 1932 and 1935 under the auspices of the Emergency Relief Fund of North Carolina. The center building served as the city hall at one time.
At the north end of the Belmont Historic District is the tree-shaded campus of the (Former) Sacred Heart College (main building, 414 N. Main Street). While there has been new construction on the campus, the college retains a number of buildings constructed over a fifty year span, beginning in 1899, and designed by noted regional ecclesiastical architect, the Reverend Michael McInemy, resident designer for Belmont Abbey and Sacred Heart. Construction on the first frame convent building at Sacred Heart began in 1891 while a new convent and novitiate building, constructed of brick, was erected in 1899. Of particular note are three connected buildings which form a roughly L-shaped complex in the center of the campus. Mercedes Hall (1899), built as a convent and novitiate building, is now the earliest extant building on the campus. The three story, brick veneered Mercedes Hall consists of two sections. The western portion of the building is occupied by a one and one-half story chapel with a slate, front gable roof and a round-arched entrance above which are tall, narrow round arched windows. The convent section, connected to the east, contains three stories, a gambrel roof, crowned by a cupola, and a projecting, three-bay, central block capped by a gambrel front pavilion. Connected to Mercedes Hall is the 1928 Administration Building. The large, three story, brick building has a slate, gable roof, and the center is marked by a tall, four-bay, square tower with a corbelled parapet and a Moorish arcade on the upper level. An arcaded porte cochere, with corbelling under the flat roof, extends from the tower. Extending to the south of the Administration Building is Victory Hall. The three-story building has a gable-front, slate roof, narrow, round-arched windows, and a round-arched entrance with fanlight.
The only other educational facility within the Belmont Historic District is the (Former) Belmont High School, located on Central Avenue. The school was built in 1939 by the WPA as part of the state-wide school consolidation movement which had begun in the 1920s. Although the Gothic Revival became a common idiom for the new consolidation schools, the Belmont High School, designed by architect, Robert L. Clemmer, is notable for its Art Deco/Art Moderne design, the only such building within the Belmont Historic District. The large, rectangular main block has a flat roof, two entrance bays, marked by streamlined detailing, and large banks of replacement windows. The recessed entrance bays have bold, geometric detailing including stylized moldings and chevron motifs around the doors.
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‡ Frances P. Alexander and Richard L. Mattson, Historians, Belmont Historic District, Gaston County, N.C., nomination document, 1996, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Bryant Street • Catawba Street • Cedar Street • Central Avenue North • Central Avenue South • Circle Drive • City Hall Alley • Davis Street • Franklin Street • Glenway Street • Hall Street • Harris Street • Hill Street • Johnson Street • Keener Boulevard • Kenwood Street • Lincoln Street • Main Street North • Main Street South • Mingus Street • Myrtle Street • Poplar Street • Route 273 • Route 7 • Smith Street • Todd Street • Woodrow Avenue East • Woodrow Avenue West