Imagine a Matthews where there is only 300 residents and most everyone is making a living through cotton farming, where the drugstore serves as a central gathering place and most out-of-town guests choose to house their horses at the Livery Stables.
Starting in May, it will be even easier to journey back to Matthews’ founding in the 1800s when the Matthews Heritage Museum opens.
Paula Lester, president of the Matthews Historical Foundation, has dreamed of opening a venue to celebrate the town’s history for years. But it wasn’t until several months ago that dream started taking shape.
“We’re very hopeful when you come and go through this museum that you’ll better understand what Matthews was like in its early days,” she said.
Through a joint partnership with the town of Matthews and the nonprofit Matthews Historical Foundation, the museum is slated to open in May in the 1,400-square-foot, circa 1880 Massey-Clark House at 232 N. Trade St.
The museum will focus on the town’s history between 1800 and 1950 and will house three galleries.
The first gallery will focus on the town’s early commerce, including exhibits on the cotton industry, the Bank of Matthews including a teller and teller cage, and communications including a switchboard and crank telephone.
The second gallery will focus on life in the early 1900s.
Exhibits will feature the Rosenwald school in Crestdale, historical toys and games and household chores at that time. It will also allow patrons to experience what it was like to live without electricity in the early years of the town.
The third gallery will focus on the community, and will include displays of the original merchants in town.
“The early history is something that people are really interested in,” said Lester. “For those who transplant here, this will give them a chance to see exactly what this area was like and what living in the South was like during these particular periods.”
There are plenty of hidden gems in the history of the town, which was incorporated in 1879.
Although the town began primarily as a farming community, it began to diversify in 1874 with the arrival of Carolina Central Railroad’s spur line.
“That really helped Matthews along to be able to go places and get goods in and ship goods out,” said Lester. “That really opened up a huge opportunity for them that they hadn’t had before.”
Between 1880 and 2010, the town grew from 191 residents to about 27,200.
Matthews was also distinctive in the early days for its bank, which opened in 1909 and later merged with BB&T in 1976.
The Livery Stables, where out-of-towners could kept their horses, was also an icon of Matthews. It operated from 1909 to 1978 and is considered one of the longest operating livery stables in the state, said Lester.
Matthews was also associated with providing residents with top quality pottery, specifically the Outen Pottery location, said Lester.
“What makes Matthews so special is its history. People are drawn to the historic feel and the old town charm,” said Mayor Jim Taylor. “If we don’t retain our building and stories and artifacts, we won’t be able to continue to keep that.”
Arriero: 704-804-2637; on Twitter: @earriero
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