Where We Came From

In 1747, Virginian Adam Sherrill led the first permanent settlers into the Catawba area, which is named after the Catawba Native Americans.  Europeans who first settled in southern Pennsylvania later moved southward and became the county’s founders. St. Paul’s Union Church, which still stands as a historic landmark, was the first congregation organized in the area. In 1842, Catawba County was formed as an independent county.

The 1800’s
Before the arrival of the railroads, the county was primarily engaged in agricultural production. The area also had one of the largest concentrations of gold to be mined, before the California Gold Rush in 1848.

In the 1850’s, under a large Hickory tree, Henry Robinson built a tavern of logs. That was the start of Hickory, which was officially established in 1863.  Hickory was the first town in North Carolina to include the council-manager style of government, and one of the first to install electric lights in 1888 and a complete sewage system in 1904.

Once the train came through the county, in 1859, the towns of Catawba, Claremont, Conover and Maiden were established and Hickory became the largest population center in Catawba County. With access to the industrialized North, the agriculture business was revolutionized and by the latter part of the 19th century, the region was a growing, vibrant center for commerce and agriculture in North Carolina.

The early 1900s
In 1902, Hickory White was built, establishing us as a furniture manufacturing town. That plant has been in operation since 1902 in its original location, making it the oldest furniture manufacturer in the country to still operate on its first site. The company is now known as Hickory Springs Manufacturing Company.   Soon after Hickory White was built, many other furniture manufacturers established themselves in the area.

Post-World War II
After World War II, the area evolved into a prospering manufacturing center, specializing in textiles and furniture production. A large, skilled workforce was formed, and during the 20th century, 60% of the United States’  furniture was made within 200 miles of here. The furniture industry still employs approximately 8,000 people, with an additional 13,000 in the manufacturing sector at large.

In 1944 the area was hit with one of the largest polio outbreaks in the country. The outbreak was so severe that nearby Charlotte Memorial Hospital was forced to shut its doors to new polio patients, and all families could do was wait for a miracle. Residents remember being forced to stay inside for the entire summer, if they were lucky enough to have avoided the disease.  Hickory and the surrounding communities joined together, and in an astonishing 54 hours, completed construction of the Hickory Emergency Infantile Paralysis Hospital. The astonishing outpouring of community service and the opening of the hospital in less than three days is referred to as the “Miracle of Hickory”.

Catawba County Today:
Our region continues as a national textile and furniture manufacturing leader. It is also recognized worldwide as one of the top manufacturers of fiber optic and telecommunications cable. 40%-60% of the world’s fiber optic cable is produced in our region. The county leads North Carolina with one of the largest percentages of skilled laborers in manufacturing and women in the work force, and it poised for further growth as more and more businesses relocate here.

More information about the history of the area can be obtained through the Catawba County Historical Association, or by visiting some of the area’s museums.