The town of Clover was founded 125 years ago this month, spawned by the economic catalyst of the railroad, a new iron highway that linked communities for travel and commerce.
But the real story of Clover’s beginnings started more than a century earlier.
In 1717, the first waves of the strong, hardy and fiercely independent people who would together build and grow the town named after a clover patch began to wash up on America’s shores.
They came to Philadelphia, Boston and other New World cities from the historic province of Ulster in northern Ireland, seeking an escape from high rent, religious persecution and government meddling in their affairs. They made a historic trek south on the 700-mile Great Wagon Road.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Among them was David and Mary Morrison Jackson, who settled in the Bethel area east of Clover, where they farmed more than 900 acres.
On the eve of the American Revolution, they were ardent supporters of political independence and the right to practice their Presbyterian faith, free from the pesky influence of the Church of England.
“The talents they had were obvious well before Clover itself was founded,” said Winthrop University historian Eddie Lee, who has written and spoken about these Scots-Irish settlers and their role in Clover’s start.
“They are fierce supporters of religious freedom and political independence,” Lee said, noting they demonstrated that during the 1780 Battle of Kings Mountain outside Clover, where the Patriot militia defeated the Loyalist militia commanded by British Maj. Patrick Ferguson.
“They were on the front lines of the American Revolution,” he said.
The Jacksons had 10 sons, many of whom stayed in the Clover area, and their descendants played a crucial role in the growth of the community, farming its land, worshiping in its churches and marrying each other.
They were not alone. Another family clan that played a significant role in the town was that of James Smith, who was born in England in 1731 and came to York County in 1767, initially settling on 300 acres granted by King George III. In 1774, another 400 acres was granted to him.
Smith served as a horseman during the Revolutionary War and conveyed the land to the present Beersheba Presbyterian Church, where he and his wife are buried. Like the Jacksons, later generations of the Smith family made contributions that built the community.
By the early 1800s, only about 100 people lived in the Clover community, and intermarriage was common. “In a small community like Clover, you married your neighbors,” said Louise Jackson of Clover, a descendant of two of David Jackson’s sons.
One of her ancestors, David Jackson Jr., had 16 children, Louise Jackson said. “Some of them left here and went mainly to Texas and Mississippi in the early years, but a great many of them stayed here and were your neighbors,” she said.
Lee noted these early families “took the Biblical advice to procreate, and they did so with gusto.” Big families at the time, he said, were viewed as a sign of affluence.
Farming was the primary means of earning a livelihood in those days, of course, and cotton was the crop of choice. “The land was part of the cotton kingdom, and the crop was planted everywhere by the 1850s, even next to most dwellings,” Lee wrote in a short history, called “A Walk Through Clover’s Past.”
In the early years, members of the Jackson clan mostly cultivated farms that dotted the countryside. But as the town grew and the need for other occupations developed, Jackson descendants played many roles.
“David Jackson’s descendants have been farmers and businessmen and postal workers and mill workers, almost every aspect of Clover society,” Louise Jackson said.
“In any of the Clover churches, you would have descendants of David and Mary Jackson,” she said. “Almost anywhere you look in this local history, you’ll find David Jackson’s family.”
The coming of the railroad in 1874 eventually led to the formal establishment of the town of Clover, Lee noted. Clover sprouted at the intersection of the railroad between Gastonia, N.C., and Chester. Land was surveyed and a post office opened in 1884.
The town was founded just north of an earlier settlement, New Centre, which had waned during the Civil War. Before Clover’s founding, Bethany and Bethel, communities to the west and east, respectively, had been the area’s primary population centers, with well-established Presbyterian churches, post offices and stores serving the area’s cotton farms.
In December 1887, Lee wrote, the town of Clover was founded around a 5,000-gallon water tank along the Chester and Lenoir Railroad. When water spilled out the tank, a “clover patch” grew, and thus the town received its name.
“To Clover, the railroad of the late 1800s was a sort of modern interstate highway,” Lee wrote in his history. “Communities like Clover benefited economically from the passengers and commerce.”
And the town began to take shape.
Clover resident Linden Smith, a descendant of James Smith, said his great-great-grandfather Myles Smith and his son, Civil War Capt. William Beatty Smith, began subdividing land for the town around the present town square.
He said William Beatty Smith - who had two brothers, both of whom also fought and returned from the Civil War - petitioned the railroad to build a siding and depot on land where railroad cars could be pulled off the main line.
William Beatty also built a train depot there at his own expense and handled the railroad freight, Linden Smith said. Around the same time, he built a general store at Main and Kings Mountain streets.
“In 1898, Capt. Beatty Smith was instrumental in starting the Clover Cotton Manufacturing Co., which was the first business in town that started providing a payroll for people,” Smith said. Other mills followed, including American Thread and Bowling Green Spinning Mill.
The textile business began to draw former cotton farmers into the town for employment, which had until that point only been available on farms, Smith said. “Of course the mill built housing for the workers, and that was the first industry that was started,” Linden Smith said.
Smith’s grandfather, Myles Linden Smith, later worked with associates in Massachusetts to establish two more textile mills in Clover, Hawthorn Spinning Mill in 1916 and Hampshire Spinning Co. in 1922.
Myles Linden Smith also had two brothers, who embarked on their own local business ventures, starting the first local movie theater and the first automobile dealership in Clover. “They were involved in most everything that was going on here,” Linden Smith said.
The Smith family also subdivided land on Kings Mountain Street, and made provisions for the town’s first church, Clover Presbyterian, in the early 1900s. The wood church was replaced by a brick church in 1923, he said.
Before the town was established, there were many schools in the area, including Bethel Academy and Bethany Academy, according to a short history published with the 1903 Clover High School graduation program.
It’s uncertain when the first school was established in the town of Clover. But according to the history, around 1899, leaders erected a two-story frame structure on Kings Mountain and Church streets, where students from Clover and the surrounding area attended.
In response to growing enrollment, school trustees eventually decided to build a school “large enough to accommodate the town for generations to come,” according to the history. The two-story brick school with eight classrooms for grades one to 10 was completed and opened in 1910.
In 1921, an addition was added to the school, featuring nine classrooms, an auditorium and several offices. The school was demolished during the 1960s and Kinard Elementary was built in its place.
Lee noted that by the 1970s, the cotton mills began to feel the pressure of international competition from cheap labor, and the industry began to die. But highways like S.C. 55 and U.S. 321 became economic engines for Clover, and an industrial park was established.
“From the start, Clover has been blessed by the vision of those who cherished freedom and valued hard work,” Lee wrote. “... There has always been a boldness to us. Our mills have become silent. And cotton is no longer king.
“But our spirit is still vibrant,” Lee wrote, “and the land is still as rich, as cattle nibble on its lushness and cars race by with families chatting on cell phones about their plans for the future.”