Gaston County isn’t the flashiest pocket of the Charlotte metro region, and that’s the way we like it. While growth has been a little slower than other counties, it’s still got plenty to offer. You might want to consider living in Gaston County if.......
You hate fighting traffic. Unlike Charlotte, which becomes more congested by the day, you don’t have to sit through several stoplight cycles to make a left turn, or sit fuming and wonder why you’re barely creeping along.
You like small-town life and good schools. On the eastern side of the county closest to Mecklenburg, you have Mount Holly and Belmont both flanking Interstate 85, just 20 minutes from Charlotte. Moving west are several other small, easy-to-live-in towns. While grocery shopping and specialty stores don’t match options you see in Charlotte, it’s getting better all the time. For instance, a Harris Teeter is FINALLY coming to Belmont. And a Publix is coming to Gastonia.
You like hiking. Crowders Mountain State Park offers a rugged trail to the top and bona fide climbing opportunities.
You travel for business a lot. Charlotte Douglas Airport is just 10-15 minutes from Belmont along Wilkinson Avenue. You won’t find an easier/faster route.
You have a boat, kayak or fishing pole. There’s public access to both the Catawba River and the South Fork River. Eastern Gaston is also close to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
You have an appreciation for the art of the possible. Gastonia, a former textile town of more than 70,000, is in the process of remaking itself. The downtown has struggled and lacks the quaint look that’s all the rage, but don’t let that be a deal-breaker. It’s getting better. And be sure to check out the massive Loray Mill loft apartment complex located in a historic brick building that used to be a massive textile mill.
You like getting more house and land for the money. Gaston has been slower to grow, in part because limited Catawba River crossings have been a highly effective barrier to sprawl. It’s not the hottest market, so that works to your favor.
You have a penchant for antique/consignment/treasure trolling. There’s a slew of great secondhand consignment malls/shops with booths selling stuff on the cheap. And whatever you do, be sure to check out the Barnyard Flea Market in Dallas on the weekends. It’s a marvel of people-watching, bargains, and things you just don’t see anywhere else. Pony rides next to washing machines, for starters.
You like beer. Of course, the craft scene is everywhere these days, and Gaston has done a fine job keeping up with things. The String Bean in Belmont, South Fork deli/cafe in Cramerton (stroll over to Goat Island Park) and the Grape and Barley in Gastonia all have eclectic, constantly updating choices.
You like an easy drive into Charlotte for work. Or play. I live in Belmont and commute to the Observer in uptown and make the trip in under a half-hour. I won’t vouch for a pleasant experience if you leave uptown on the dot at 5 p.m. But 5 p.m. in any direction is bad news.
You want a taste of the Southern pace of life. There are parts of Charlotte and more congested corners of the region that feel like Anywhere, U.S.A. But many pockets of Gaston still find charming accents, people saying Ma’am and Sir, and in general just taking their time. You’ll either find this refreshing, or maddening, depending on your internal wiring.
Roland, the Observer’s deputy features editor, has lived in Gaston County for 15 years.
See some stars: The Schiele Museum of Natural History includes traveling exhibitions, planetarium and lots of family activities.
Eat at The String Bean in Belmont: This inviting restaurant/beer-and-wine market/meat counter has great patio seating.
Hunt for treasures: The Catawba River Antique Mall in Belmont is a consignment antique mall with more than 350 vendors filling up a former mill. Nearby Piccolo Antique Mall, also in Belmont, has more than 70 vendors. And while you’re at it, stop in and browse the Belmont General Store.
See how their garden grows: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, located on 380 acres, offers lovely paths, nature trails, tropical plant conservatory and other delights.
Take a hike: Crowders Mountain State Park, off I-85 on the west side of Gastonia, is a premier hiking and mountain-climbing spot that’s popular with both families and hardcore enthusiasts.