History of the Gaston Soil and Water Conservation District
(Formally the Lower Catawba District March 18, 1940-December 23, 1963)
The Mission of the Gaston Soil and Water Conservation District is . . .
To provide leadership and conservation assistance to the people of Gaston County to improve and sustain their soil, water, air, plant and wildlife resources.
Gaston, Lincoln and Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation Districts organized as the Lower Catawba District on March 18, 1940. The Board of Supervisors petitioned the North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Committee on October 25, 1963, to divide the Lower Catawba District into three one-county districts. Thus, on December 23, 1963, the Gaston Soil and Water Conservation District was chartered under Chapter 139, Section 14, of the General Statutes of North Carolina and constituted a governmental subdivision of the State of North Carolina.
On December 21, 1846, the Act creating Gaston County was ratified by the North Carolina State Legislature. The original grant for Gaston County was made in 1663 by Charles II. Gaston County is named for the Honorable William Gaston, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Act of the Legislature creating Gaston County also named Dallas as the County Seat. Dallas, incorporated in 1862, is the oldest incorporated town in Gaston County. However, in 1911, the proposal to move the county government from Dallas to Gastonia was approved.
Gaston County is located in south-central North Carolina 25 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina in the southern Piedmont physiographic region. The land area of the county is 226,816 acres or about 357 square miles with 6,074 acres of water. The county is characterized as gently rolling or hilly with several prominent ridges and smaller mountain ranges in the central southwestern and eastern parts. Elevation ranges from 587 feet in the southeast corner of the county to 1,705 feet at the pinnacle of the Kings Mountain Range in the southwest. Generally, drainage is from northwest to southeast, and most streams drain into the Catawba River Basin or its major tributary, the South Fork Catawba River.
Gaston County population estimates were 181,045 in 1998. Gaston County has 15 incorporated municipalities, more than any county in the United States. One municipality, Dellview, founded in 1924, is currently the smallest incorporated town in the United States with a population of 8. McAdenville, incorporated in 1883 has become known as "Christmas Town - USA." Population growth is exhibited by the booming demand for the construction of new subdivisions, schools, office parks, industrial parks and shopping centers. Every day, hundreds of acres of woodland and farm land are being cleared and leveled for these new developments. Unfortunately, along with the boom of new construction and economic prosperity, come harmful consequences to the environment, as well as, to the quality of life of Gaston's citizens.
Early Gaston County never knew the agricultural prosperity which some of the other counties of the state enjoyed. Normally, the small farms were self-sufficient, but the crop yield was relatively low. Corn, one of the more abundant and prosperous crop, was quickly converted into whiskey by one of the forty-eight licensed distilleries in the county. By 1870, Gaston was known as the "Banner Corn Whiskey County of Carolina." In addition to distilleries, mines in various parts of the county yielded - gold, lithium, lime, sulphur, tin and iron. Until 1995, the Lithium Corporation of America, located in Bessemer City, North Carolina in Gaston County was the largest lithium mining operation in the world.
In 1845, the industrial boom in Gaston County had its origin. Thomas R. Tate established the first cotton mill on the Catawba River near Mountain Island Lake. By the turn of the century, ten cotton mills were built and operating. Gaston County led all other counties in the state, both in the number of spindles in operation and in the number of bales of cotton consumed. Today, Gaston County has more textile mills than any city in the United States, however, the textiles' industries are rapidly moving operations out of the United States and Gaston County.
The first Soil Survey of Gaston County, North Carolina, was published in 1911. The field work for the soil survey was completed in 1909 by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Soils. The following soil types were mapped: Cecil, Durham, Iredell and Congaree. An updated Soil Survey of Gaston County was published in May 1989 with field work completed in 1985. Thirty-seven (37) soils are identified and mapped in the soil's survey. The Gaston Soil series was named especially for Gaston County because it is predominately found throughout the county. Today, the Gaston County Natural Resources Department has digital soil survey mapping and database information with interpretative descriptions for desired land uses.
There are no minutes of the Gaston Conservation District (Lower Catawba District) recorded in Gaston County from March 18, 1940 until January 5, 1956. Board members in 1956 were:
R. B. Watterson - Chairman
R. A. Jackson - Vice Chairman
Hugh Helms - Secretary & Treasurer
D. S. Rhyne - Member
In December 1956, ballot boxes were placed in Helms Store and UpChurch Feed and Seed Store in Cherryville, Froneberger Hardware in Bessemer City, Summey Hardware in Dallas, River Valley Chevrolet Company in Mount Holly, R. L. Meeks Store and Ferguson's Store in Gastonia, as well as, the Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service office in Dallas, N. C. for the election of Board members. The election was held December 3-8, 1956.
The Soil Conservation Service work unit office in Gastonia, N. C. was moved to the new Agriculture Center Building located in Dallas, North Carolina in October 1956. Undersecretary, E. L. Peterson, of the U. S. Department of Agriculture visited the new Agriculture Center in October 1956.
In 1982, Gaston County had 44 dairy operations. In 2001, Gaston has nine (9) certified dairy operations. The Gaston Natural Resources Department prepared Nutrient Management Plans for all dairy operations in Gaston to meet the North Carolina .0200 Nondischarge of Animal Waste Regulations. The animal waste systems properly manage 2.6 times the amount of bio-solids generated by the human population of Gaston County.
The Gaston Conservation District received the Goodyear Conservation Grand Award in 1976, 1986 and 1993. The Conservation District received Conservation Honor Awards in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997. The Conservation Awards Program honors conservation districts nationally to encourage outstanding accomplishments in natural resources' management.
Mr. Dayne S. Rhyne, Gaston County, served as President of the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in 1945. In 1989, Rebecca H. Rhyne, also from Gaston, became the first woman to serve as President of the North Carolina Association of Conservation Districts.
A priority for the Gaston Conservation District Board and the Gaston County Natural Resources Department is the establishment of natural resources' Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping and databases. The GIS systems are established and maintained to provide up-to-date information to evaluate and solve complex natural resource concerns, management, problems, and to aid in landuse planning.
The Conservation District plays a key role in finding answers to difficult natural resource management problems. By bringing all stakeholders together, by facilitating discussions, and by contributing the District's wealth of knowledge about the local communities served, the District has a tremendous impact on the successful resolution of tough management decisions.