A Brief History of Matthews, NC
The history of Matthews is still being made. From a little village in a farming community half a county away from Charlotte, it and Charlotte have grown until they rub elbows. With a population of some 19,000, Matthews is part of the section known as Metrolina, which has the distinction of being the fifth largest urban area in the country.
Matthews was first known as Stumptown, probably because of the remains of the forests that covered this section before it was settled. It was said that a wagon couldn’t make a U-turn because of the many stumps. The name changed to Fullwood for Mr. John M. Fullwood who operated the Stagecoach Inn and became the first postmaster in 1825. In 1874 a railroad was built through the town connecting it to Charlotte and Monroe. The name was changed to Matthews in honor of Mr. Watson Matthews, a director of the railroad. The town was incorporated in 1872 and the first census in 1880 showed a population of 191.
As cotton farming covered the South around the turn of the century, these small towns flourished as suppliers for the farmers’ needs. Heath, Barrett, & Grier operated a large store at the street corner where the Matthews Mercantile building now stands. Renfrows & Funderburk Brothers set up business across the street. Both businesses operated cotton gins. Other general and grocery stores and markets catered to the local and community trade. Both Chevrolet (Renfrow) and Ford (Benton Brothers) dealerships operated for several years until the Depression cooled our economy.
Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches all were organized in 1877. These all still flourish along with countless area churches representing various faiths. The churches at first operated private schools until 1906 when Matthews received one of the first public schools in the county, which remained a high school for some 45 years until the “Super Highs” took over. Today, Matthews Elementary is one of the largest in North Carolina.
Dr. Joseph Bruner, a surgeon in the Confederate Army, served as a physician in the community from 1865 till 1906. Dr. T.N. Reid started his practice here in the 1890’s and worked until his death 54 years later. Dr. Hugh F. McManus also practiced medicine for 45 years taking time to serve as mayor also. Drs. Reid and McManus’ offices were in the old drug store building at the northeast corner of John and Trade streets. The drug store was operated by Mr. Lester (Doc) Yandle. Cruising couples in Model-T Fords could get ice cream cones served curbside for a nickel in those days.
Now Matthews boasts of doctors who are specialists in every category. Medical facilities now serve the entire area and the community’s own hospital, Presbyterian Hospital Matthews, opened in 1995.
Matthews’ men and women shared their part of the suffering, dying and pain of waiting in all of our wars from the Civil War through two World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. Their men and women came home and took up their civilian duties as veterans everywhere do.
While the crime rate has historically been low, Matthews did experience the Great Bank Robbery in 1976. Due to a tip, it seems that all the police knew more about the robbery than the robbers. While the would-be robbers cruised back and forth on the empty Trade St. (not noticing that it was blocked off with the Feds on the roof tops), the president of the bank (Mr. Edward Funderburk) and a good size audience watched the proceedings from the plate glass window of the Renfrows store across the street. When the bandits finally got enough courage to enter the bank, they were met by the law with loaded guns.
After World War II, the farming community began to change. As Charlotte’s booming growth spread, the Matthews community became filled with new businesses, housing developments, and thousands of people. Many of these folks came with new accents and new ideas making their influence felt in churches, schools, and politics. A largely Democratic voting community turned into a Republican stronghold. What would our ancestors think — cotton and the boll weevil had departed and the Republicans had taken over.
As Matthews faces its third century, it can look back gratefully to a proud and colorful history. At the same time, it looks forward to an exciting future blessed by the thousands of families who choose to live, love, work and worship here.