In 1841 a portion of Lincoln County and Rutherford County was used to found Cleveland County. Cleveland County covers an area of 469 square miles. Shelby was named as the county seat of Cleveland County, and Cleveland received its name from Benjamin Cleveland, who was a colonel in the American Revolutionary War who took part in the Battle of King’s Mountain.
During the 1920’s the cotton industry was a major player in the economy of Cleveland County, which jumped from production of 8,000 bales per year to 80,000 bales per year. Then at the height of the production in 1948 Cleveland County was producing more than 83,000 bales per year. People were flocking to Cleveland County as the work force, as the cotton mills were paying the highest wages in the South. Then in the 1950’s recession set in and the droughts came, the area was infested with insects and the federal government had begun its control on acreage, which led to the decline of the cotton crops. This was the single most important crop in the history of Cleveland County and now it was in shambles.
One of the most impressive sites to be seen in Cleveland County today is the awe inspiring First Baptist Church located in Shelby. It is known that the Baptist have had a significant presence in Cleveland County since 1847, and particularity in the Shelby area. It is believed that the first ever literary society for the women was here in Cleveland County, NC.