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August 8, 2011 / Gaston Today Magazine

Town Spotlight: Bessemer City…”The city with a Heart.”


Bessemer City

Bessemer City

Geography: Bessemer City
Settled in 1756 and founded in 1893, the city’s motto is City with a Heart. The community was named for Henry Bessemer, inventor of steel-making process.

History: Bessemer City is named for Sir Henry Bessemer who created the Bessemer Process for smelting iron. Bessemer City was founded on land purchased from the Ormand family, near the Sloan-Washington-Ormand Iron Furnace. Ironically, it was the Bessemer Process which made Bessemer City’s early iron smelting industry obsolete.

European settlement in the Bessemer City area dates to 1754, when King George II of England granted adjoining 350-acre (1.4 km2) tracts to James Ormand and Adam Meek. Ormand established the Ormand Mining Company to extract iron ore. It is unknown when a furnace was built on the land, but it is mentioned in a deed after 1786 when it was called the Washington Furnace. The Old Ormand Furnace was used to process some of the iron ore that was mined in the area and today is one of the oldest remaining furnaces in the country[4]. Despite a local tale that cannon balls were made during the American Revolutionary War, there is no proof the furnace was built that early. The furnace made iron implements for local use and was in operation until the mid 1800’s (when the Bessemer process made small furnace operations uneconomical). The “Old Furnace” is still owned by the Ormand Family Foundation and the site is used as a gathering place for the Ormand Family Reunion, one of the oldest family reunions in America, held annually ever since 1897.

During the late 1840s, corn and cotton were the region’s two main crops. Whiskey production was also profitable. Gaston County had more licensed whiskey distilleries than any county in North Carolina.

In 1871, the Atlanta & Charlotte Division of the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company built through Gaston County. Laying the track through Whetstone Mountain, located west of modern-day Bessemer City, was considered a great engineering accomplishment. John Wooten built a general store next to the railroad on the site of present-day Bessemer City and called the store and depot “Wooten’s Station”

In 1891, John Askew Smith, previously of Reidsville, North Carolina, moved with his wife Fannie and brother-in-law, John A. Pinchback, to Gaston County. Smith purchased 1,700 acres (6.9 km2) and wanted to establish a town on to the east of Whetstone Mountain. By 1893, Smith and other residents petitioned the North Carolina legislature to incorporate the town. On March 6, 1893, Bessemer City was officially chartered. Smith hired W.R. Richardson, an engineer from Guilford County, North Carolina, to lay out the town. Smith’s “Highacre” house, built in the early 1900s, is now occupied by the Eury family.

The population of Bessemer City at the time of its charter was very small, with only a few families, but by 1900 it had grown to between 500 and 600 people. In 1895, Stonewall Jackson Durham and John M. Odell incorporated Southern Cotton Mills and as their first venture completed and opened the failed Smith/Pinchback Mill. A series of textile mills opened by Smith and Pinchback; Durham and Odell; Frank, Robert and Max Goldberg; as well as the Ragan Spinning Company, gave Bessemer City its industrial foundation.

Business and Industry: One of the largest industries in Bessemer City is FMC Lithium, Inc., the largest producer of lithium in the Americas. Lithium is used in many products including pharmaceuticals, batteries, ceramics, and construction products. Advanced Drainage Systems, the largest polyethylene pipe and fittings manufacturer in the country, operates a 50,000-square-foot (4,600 m2) facility in Bessemer City employing 100 people. Other manufacturers include Hunter Douglas (Designer Shades Division) and Dole. There is also still some agriculture in the form of Kiser’s Dairy Farm, among others. Mr. Kiser is a descendent of one of the founding families of Bessemer City and he has about 200 animals.

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