Shelby, North Carolina
Official seal of Shelby, North Carolina
Location of Shelby, North Carolina
Location of Shelby, North Carolina
Coordinates: 35°17′25″N 81°32′43″W / 35.29028°N 81.54528°W / 35.29028; -81.54528
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
Named forIsaac Shelby
 • Total22.39 sq mi (57.98 km2)
 • Land22.35 sq mi (57.90 km2)
 • Water0.03 sq mi (0.09 km2)
Elevation873 ft (266 m)
 • Total21,918
 • Estimate 
 • Density980.50/sq mi (378.57/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
Area code704, 980
FIPS code37-61200 [4]
GNIS feature ID2405454[2]

Shelby is a city in and the county seat of Cleveland County, North Carolina, United States.[5] It lies near the western edge of the Charlotte combined statistical area. The population was 21,918 at the 2020 census.


The area was originally inhabited by Catawba and Cherokee peoples and was later settled between around 1760. The city was chartered in 1843 and named after Colonel Isaac Shelby, a hero of the battle of Kings Mountain (1780) during the American Revolution. Shelby was agricultural until the railways in the 1870s stimulated Shelby's development. Textiles later became its chief industry during the 1920s when production of cotton in Cleveland County rose from 8,000 to 80,000 bales a year. Cotton production peaked in 1948 with Cleveland County producing 83,549 bales, making it North Carolina's premier cotton county. In the 1930s, Shelby was known as “the leading shopping center between Charlotte and Asheville”  People from surrounding counties came to Shelby to shop, since there were numerous types of local and chain stores. By 1947, Shelby was a true thriving town with the mills paying among the highest wages in the South. In the 1950s, droughts, insect infestations, and government acreage controls resulted in the decline of cotton as Cleveland County's primary crop.[6]

Shelby in 1925

The architecture of Shelby is noteworthy in that despite being in a rural area, there are magnificent homes and buildings with unique character. Some buildings are county landmarks, such as the Historic Campbell Building and others are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Banker's House, Joshua Beam House, Central Shelby Historic District, Cleveland County Courthouse, East Marion-Belvedere Park Historic District, James Heyward Hull House, Masonic Temple Building, Dr. Victor McBrayer House, George Sperling House and Outbuildings, Joseph Suttle House, Webbley, and West Warren Street Historic District.[7]

Shelby was home to a group of political leaders in the first half of the 20th century that have become known as the "Shelby Dynasty." These men wielded power through the local, State and Federal governments. The most notable men of Shelby's political leadership were brothers James L. Webb and Edwin Yates Webb and brothers-in-law O. Max Gardner and Clyde R. Hoey. As governors, NC representatives, and US congressman, the group impacted Shelby life and Shelby's reputation throughout the state.[8]

In 1916, Thomas Dixon, Jr., the author of The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, planned to erect a statue of his uncle Leroy McAfee on the courthouse square.[9][10] The project was initially met with enthusiasm,[9] until it was announced that Dixon wanted McAfee to wear a Ku Klux Klan mask in the statue.[10] A Confederate monument is located on the west side of the courthouse square while foreign war monuments stand on the north and south sides.


Shelby's community of art, music, and government all take place in Uptown Shelby historic district. Uptown Shelby is home to a large square, local businesses, and a variety of restaurants surrounding The Courthouse Square. Re-branded as “uptown” in the 70s in order to bring town-people back off the highway and away from the mall, this area has been named a "Main Street" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The local pavilion hosts a twice-a-week Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as well local concerts. Monthly summer festivals like Shelby Alive and Seventh Inning Stretch, hosted by the American Legion World Series, brings regional music acts to perform in the city.[11] With a low cost of living and a vibrant small town environment, Uptown Shelby has experienced a 10% growth in street level occupancy from 78% to 88%.[12] Uptown Shelby hosts opportunities for active living with groups that engage in cycling, running, crossfit, and yoga. Newgrass brewing, multiple restaurants, and other local businesses are attracting day trippers and shoppers from across the region. Party of the city brand, live music is a part of community with the Earl Scruggs Center and the Don Gibson Theatre.

Other public attractions include walking trails like the thread trail and the Broad River Trail as well as public events. Reoccurring events include the Fall Livermush festival, The Cleveland County fair which is the largest county agricultural fair in North Carolina, The 7thinning Stretch, The Art of Sound, Arts on the Square, and various fundraisers.[13]

Shelby is known throughout the state for its collaborative methods between private, non-profit, and public sector organizations with groups like Leadership Cleveland County.

In 2011, Shelby was named the permanent home of the American Legion Baseball World Series after decades of rotating venues for the event.[14]


Shelby is located in south-central Cleveland County. U.S. Route 74, a four-lane highway, runs through the city south of the center, and leads east 21 miles (34 km) to Gastonia and west 27 miles (43 km) to Rutherfordton.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 21.1 square miles (54.7 km2), of which 21.1 square miles (54.6 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2), or 0.17%, is water.[15]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[16]

2020 census

Shelby racial composition[17]
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 11,169 50.96%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 8,383 38.25%
Native American 64 0.29%
Asian 228 1.04%
Pacific Islander 5 0.02%
Other/Mixed 947 4.32%
Hispanic or Latino 1,122 5.12%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 21,918 people, 8,013 households, and 4,887 families residing in the city.

2000 census

As of the 2000 United States census, there were 19,477 people, 7,927 households, and 5,144 families residing in the city.[4] The population density was 1,073.8 inhabitants per square mile (414.6/km2). There were 8,853 housing units at an average density of 488.1 per square mile (188.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 56.88% White, 40.97% African American, 0.09% Native American, 0.56% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.72% from other races, and 0.76% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.56% of the population.

There were 7,927 households, out of which 27.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.3% were married couples living together, 20.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.1% were non-families. 31.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 25.0% under the age of 18, 7.6% from 18 to 24, 25.8% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 19.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 83.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 75.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,345, and the median income for a family was $38,603. Males had a median income of $30,038 versus $21,362 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,708. About 14.3% of families and 17.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.7% of those under age 18 and 13.7% of those age 65 or over.



Shelby is served by US Highway 74 and its business route. US 74 Business travels through uptown Shelby along Marion St. and Warren St., giving travelers access to Shelby's growing central business district. Currently, a controlled-access highway (signed as US 74) is under construction from Mooresboro to Kings Mountain, which will bypass Shelby to the north.[18] Upon completion of the project, Charlotte and Asheville will be connected by virtually uninterrupted freeway via Interstate 85, US Highway 74, and Interstate 26.

Shelby is also served by four North Carolina State Highways.


Shelby-Cleveland County Regional Airport serves the city and county. The airport is used mostly for general aviation and is owned by the city of Shelby. Commercial air service is provided within a 2-hour drive at Charlotte (CLT), Asheville (AVL), Concord (USA) and Greenville/Spartanburg (GSP).

In popular culture

The film adaptation of Blood Done Sign My Name was filmed in Shelby,[19] as well as the reaping scene in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games.[20]

A fictionalized version of the city is the setting of HBO comedy show Eastbound & Down. Filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, it bears little geographic or cultural resemblance to the real place. Actor and writer Danny McBride chose the location as an inspiration because of its size, attitude, and name.[21]

The TV show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern visited the 2009 Livermush festival in Shelby.[22]

On November 11, 2007, the Oxygen Network's "Captured" aired a profile of The Brenda Sue Brown Murder mystery that took place in Shelby in 1966.[23]

Notable people


  1. ^ "ArcGIS REST Services Directory". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Shelby, North Carolina
  3. ^ "QuickFacts: Shelby city, North Carolina". United States Geological Survey. May 21, 2023.
  4. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  5. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  6. ^ "National register of historic places". NPS.Gov.
  7. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  8. ^ "Shelby Dynasty Essay: Shelby, North Carolina: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary".
  9. ^ a b "Cleveland Cullings". The Gastonia Gazette. Gastonia, North Carolina. September 22, 1916. p. 7. Retrieved September 28, 2016 – via The announcement that Thomas Dixon will erect a monument on the Shelby court square to the memory of Col. Leroy McAfee is hailed with delight.
  10. ^ a b "Cleveland County Is Resenting Dixon's Plan". The Charlotte Observer. October 29, 1916. Retrieved September 28, 2016 – via Whether or no Thomas Dixon suspected that such a project would meet with spirited opposition all over his home county and as a piece of news, become circulated widely by newspapers of the South, is another matter but if Mr Dixon wants to stir up things and keep his name before the public to better advertise his productive "The Fall of a Nation", he could not have selected anything more timely. Mr Dixon proposed to erect this monument to Colonel McAfee in Shelby, the county seat of Cleveland County, where "Tommy" was "brought up" and to include a Ku Klux masque.
  11. ^ "Uptown Shelby events". Uptown Shelby Events.
  12. ^ "About Us".
  13. ^ "Events".
  14. ^ "Tuesday ALWS Schedule and Free Admission".
  15. ^ "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Shelby city, North Carolina". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  16. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  17. ^ "Explore Census Data". Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  18. ^ webmaster. "NCDOT: US 74 Bypass (Shelby Bypass)". Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  19. ^ "Tyson's 'Blood' to be filmed in N.C.". Raleigh News & Observer. February 13, 2008.
  20. ^ Buckworth, Kathy (March 14, 2012). "The Hunger Games Take Over North Carolina". Huffington Post. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  21. ^ Cawthon, Graham (February 28, 2009). "How HBO's "Eastbound & Down" came to Shelby". The Star. Archived from the original on March 22, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2009.
  22. ^ Allen, David (May 7, 2009). "Livermush (and Shelby) featured on Travel Channel". The Shelby Star. Archived from the original on May 9, 2009. Retrieved January 3, 2010.
  23. ^ "Family still waiting on murder trial". Archived from the original on March 18, 2012.
  24. ^ "Bill Champion's career statistics". Retrieved March 29, 2009.
  25. ^ "About Kay Hagan". United States Senate. Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved May 12, 2009.
  26. ^ "Tom Wright's career statistics". Retrieved September 8, 2008.