Belmont Historical Society and a Brief History of Belmont

Many of you know how much I admired Bobby Brown, but few know the impact that he had on the community of Belmont through his devotion to the foundation of a historical society so that people would be able to “preserve the past for the sake of the future”. Preserving the past is what the historical society is all about, and its founders and members have worked diligently to put together a museum of artifacts that are meaningful to the history of Belmont. Without these like-minded individuals, Belmont’s past after a period would have been forgotten. The further time moves away from events and eras; the less people remember those things that helped mold, shape, and determine the destination that we have arrived at today.

Textile manufacturing is a classic example of this idea of forgetting the past and only looking at the present and the future. While many people remember that Belmont was built on textiles, people tend to lose sight of the impact that Belmont and Gaston County textiles had on the nation and the world. Not only did the textile manufacturing plants provide jobs, but the textile products they produced  were known as quality products throughout the world. Gaston County textiles and cotton yarn manufacturing were a mainstay of the government procurement during World War II. A little known fact is that Gaston County produced and furnished 60% of the cotton yarn required by the federal government during the war. This quote from a the Belmont Banner, May 3, 1944, says it all, “Gaston County furnishes the Government with 60 percent of the Cotton Yarn needed. Every pound of yarn is delivered by government directives. Every mill in this section is a sub-contractor for the government and the War Effort. This means that a Textile Worker in Gaston county is as important, and even more so, than any other type of Defense Worker. Our production is needed so badly that the Government has asked for an extra day in Cotton Yarn Production.” It is easy to say that when cotton was king and the textile mills were strong, Belmont was one of the world centers of that domination. Sadly, this era is slowly being forgotten and that is where the historical society comes in to bridge the gap. Textiles are a large part of our town’s heritage and should not be forgotten.

Belmont is also known for it’s patriotism and every time the nation has raised a call to arms, Belmont’s finest young men have answered that call. Gene Reinhardt was serving at Schofield Barracks when the first bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor. James ‘Red’ Joye earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his gallantry on the field of battle in Italy during that bloody World War II Campaign. Haldean Jenkins landed at Normandy on D-Day as a medical corpsman and in Belgium he was captured during the Battle of the Bulge. Haldean was a prisoner of the Germans until the end of the war. Claude Setzer landed and served during the bloody battle for Iwo Jima and never forgot the horrors he saw during that 36 day campaign. Belmont named Keener Boulevard after PFC Robert Steven Keener who was the first casualty of the Vietnam War from Belmont. He was killed in action on January 13th, 1967 in Binh Duong, South Vietnam after an undetermined explosion. Many others have served from the Revolutionary War through the War on Terror and their service and sacrifices are another part of what makes Belmont so special to many of us. We should never forget this part of the rich Belmont history and the historical society has a room at it’s museum dedicated to our citizen soldiers from Belmont.

There are so many more distinct historical facts that I could mention about my hometown of Belmont including the fact that during the Great Depression, Harley Gaston and leading Belmont Democrats were able to procure a huge amount of funding from the Roosevelt Administration’s Works Progress Administration for the building of seven miles of new water and sewer lines, a new sewer pump station, a new high school (Belmont Middle School), the paving of many roads within the city, a new city park with tennis courts and baseball field (Davis Park), a new community building (J. Paul Ford Recreation Center),  a rebuilt bridge on Central Avenue, and from the Treasury Department, a new post office (City Hall). All in all, as a April 1, 1938 Gazette article quoting the Belmont City Engineer W. T. Cox stated, “Mr. Cox pointed out in his statement that when the Federally supported work projects were first instituted here under CWA in November, 1932, Belmont already had plans available for enlarging its sanitary sewer system. This made it possible to enter Into the work program from the start with a worthwhile project, thus providing work for its able-bodied and needy unemployed.” With large unemployment even with the textile concerns, Belmont used the WPA and other federal relief programs to put people to work which according to the same article, “The Federal Works Progress program has contributed a large amount to the progressiveness and alertness of the community. The city authorities believe that the work relief Is the best method of providing for the needy unemployed. It makes most of the Individuals feel like they have a job and that they are earning their own living , and it helps them keep physically and morally fit for private employment when It becomes available.” From its earliest history through many ups and downs, Belmont has been seen as one of the most progressive towns in Gaston County and even in 2017 that continues to be the case.

Finally, my goal as an author, historian, and Belmont Historical Society board member is to help the organization meet its obligation to preserve Belmont’s past and help the community understand how past decisions by city leaders and city government positioned the city to take advantage of the unprecedented growth it has enjoyed over the past few years. I urge you to come check out the Belmont Historical Society Museum at 40 Catawba Street in Historic Downtown Belmont and learn more about the city that I am proud to call my hometown.

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