By 1910 Gastonia was home to 11 cotton mills, a public school system, electric lights and began paving roads. Hence the town of Gastonia grew and slowly outdistanced its neighbors as the central hub of political and social activity and in 1911 replaced Dallas as the county seat.
Also in 1911, Gastonia doubled its size when it annexed the huge Loray Mills and its surrounding settlements (to the west of the city limits). Another significant annexation occurred in 1964 when the city annexed a large tract of land to the east and increased its size again by about one half. This area also includes what is now the retail center for the region. In 1911 the Piedmont and Northern Railroad (P&N) an interurban line began running from Gastonia to Charlotte and furnished the city with its first and only streetcar. The streetcar ran directly along Franklin Avenue starting at Webb Street and continuing to Church Street. The line continued to Groves Mill before connecting with the P&N. In later years with the increased use of the automobile this location became a source of aggravation for many motorists and in 1948, Gastonia retired its last street car. In the late 1920’s Wilkinson Blvd. was built and became North Carolinas first four lane highway.
Physically, Gastonia has many influences, past and present, affecting its development. Originally people and industries settled along the rivers because of fertile lands and water power. After the technology for steam power became available, factories no longer depended on their location next to water and began setting up along the rail lines to take advantage of their easy and affordable transportation. Naturally, villages followed the mills and Gastonia developed as a collection of dispersed communities complete with their own shopping, civic and religious centers, usually tied to the mill itself. As the population increased and industries diversified, Gastonia began to fill out. Like many other cities that developed under the influence of the automobile Gastonia witnessed a decline of commercial and residential uses in its central core and an increase of strip developments along major thoroughfares. A movement of residential uses to the periphery has also been evident.
By 1930 the population had increased to 17,093 with about 22% of that population employed in the textile mills. Before the end of the year one of two mill workers was unemployed and most employed workers were on part-time schedules. Mill workers brought in from the mountains, skilled only in farming and factory work, were idle unless they could return to the land. December of 1930 saw half of the population unemployed, and the First National Bank closed its doors followed by four other local banks. Textile mills either combined, incorporated, or closed.
This way of life was slowly coming to an end. Below is Main Street Gastonia in 1899.