It begins as a subtle rumbling in the distance. The rumbling is interrupted by a horn’s crescendo, echoing as to announce its rapid approach. Trembling can be felt in the ground beneath your feet, its reverberation unmistakable. As unmistakable today as it was the day the train arrived for the very first time on December 15th, 1874.
Our hometown has a story, one that began long before the arrival of the Carolina Central Railway. To truly know the Town of Matthews is to understand the chapters that lead us to the present; the trees, the trains, and the traders that crafted the story of who we are today.
The Trees of Stumptown
In the 1700’s, the closest inhabitants could be found on the nearby trading trails and hunting grounds established by the Waxhaw and Catawba Indian tribes. At the turn of the 19th century, the discovery of unspoiled woodlands enticed settlers in search of resource-rich land for farming. They realized how well cotton grew in the region, and it soon became the primary cash crop of their newfound land. As these pioneer farmers began clearing trees for planting, they left a noticeable remnant across the terrain: tree stumps. So many in fact, the early settlement became known simply as “Stumptown”.
The Trains of Fullwood
Stumptown continued to grow as cotton proved to be a profitable crop for local farmers. Structure and planning would soon be necessary to the budding township, including the appointment of a postmaster. John Miles Fullwood would be the first to assume the role in July of 1825, in addition to operating a stagecoach, depot, and general store from his home. Arriving mail was addressed to Fullwood Station, and in time, the unofficial town would come to be known as Fullwood.
As the greater region around Fullwood continued to grow, so did the need for adequate transportation. Fullwood was a key stop between nearby Monroe and Charlotte for the stagecoach, but that era was quickly coming to an end. In late 1874, the first train along the tracks of the Carolina Central Railway arrived at Fullwood Station. The town was now connected as far east as the beaches of Wilmington, and as far west as the foothills of Rutherford.
The railroad had a name in mind for its new station in honor of the company’s director. His name was Edward Matthews.
The Traders of Matthews
As Matthews Station continued to be recognized as a key stop between Monroe and Charlotte for the railroad, the Town of Matthews was officially established in 1879. In those early days of incorporation, there were eight registered merchants doing business in Matthews. As the town grew, so did that number, and merchants and traders would leave their indelible mark on our town. Their names would become as identifiable as the businesses they established.
Names like B.D. Funderburk of Funderburk Livery Stable, which provided stabling, grooming, and feeding for the horses throughout the town. Funderburk also led a group of investors to establish another key business in our town, the Bank of Matthews.
Names like Berry Burnette of Burnette Shoe Shop, who took over the family business from his father in 1930 and ran it for half a century. The story goes that when Berry went off to fight for his country in World War II, the people of Matthews waited to have repairs made to their shoes until he returned.
Names like Thomas Renfrow of Renfrow Hardware & General Merchandise. His legacy in town began with opening a gold mine, then a thriving cotton farm and ginning operation, and ultimately the general store that bears his family name. The store continues to serve the community to this day.
The list of names continues, with over 100 merchants, traders, and businesses having served the Town of Matthews since that first train arrived 146 years ago. The Buffalo Jackson brand may have been born in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, but we are proud to call Matthews home. We’re reminded of the heritage that lives in the names that canvas our town to this very day. From Stumptown Park to the Matthews Train Depot, from Fullwood Lane to Renfrow Hardware. While we honor the trees, trains, and traders who crafted our heritage, we take pride in the role we play in the present and future chapters of our hometown’s story.
Many thanks to theMatthews Heritage Museum and the Town of Matthews for historical content and insight.