Historian talks town history as thousands gather for Matthews Alive festival

WBTV spoke to Barbara Taylor, director of the Matthews Heritage Museum, to learn more about the...
WBTV spoke to Barbara Taylor, director of the Matthews Heritage Museum, to learn more about the history of the town.(WBTV)
Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 12:05 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MATTHEWS, N.C. (WBTV) - Thousands of people flocked to downtown Matthews for the Matthews Alive festival Labor Day Weekend.

The festival features food, amusement rides and activities for people of all ages. The festival was canceled the last two years because of health concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

WBTV spoke to Barbara Taylor, director of the Matthews Heritage Museum, to learn more about the history of the town.

“Probably the most important thing to know about Matthews is we started about 100 years behind Charlotte. What we are best known for, I think, is our wonderful family feeling,” explained Taylor. “Any Saturday you can just walk down the street and there are people walking everywhere, going to the farmer’s market, grabbing a cup of coffee. There’s a real friendly atmosphere here in Matthews.”

Taylor said the town’s first residents called the area Stumptown because early settlers moved in quickly, chopped down trees, and left the stumps behind.

Eventually Stumptown came to be known as Matthews. Taylor said the town was named for Edward Matthews, a director from the Central Carolina Railroad.

“We were not a mill town. It was more agrarian. Cotton was king for a number of years,” said Taylor. “This town grew up like many American towns – very slowly.”

The heritage museum showcases the methodical growth of Matthews. Museum visitors can read about the town’s first institutions like the Matthews Cash Crop and Bigger’s Furniture.

“The way we tell our story is basically the story of almost any town USA. You know, we had the cobbler or the shoemaker. We had the barber,” elaborated Taylor.

According to United States census data, fewer than a thousand people lived in Matthews until after 1970. The population exploded in the 1980s and 1990s.

The town has continued to grow. What was once a small, agrarian community has become a major suburb of Charlotte. People who live and work in the area told WBTV that they still appreciate the modern version of small-town charm.

“It’s got a different vibe. It’s got a quieter, more family vibe and everything,” said Ryan Ostendorf, a Charlotte resident who works in Matthews.

No weekend showcases the town’s family-friendly atmosphere like Labor Day Weekend. The annual Matthews Alive festival is held during the holiday weekend. The weekend-long festival brings all sorts of fun, food and art to the heart of town.

“It’s a time, a weekend, Labor Day weekend, just to relax and have fun,” explained Taylor.

Patrick Balsley, a Matthews resident, said he has been coming to the festival for years and looks forward to this year’s event.

“I have a lot of nostalgic memories from when I was a kid here in Matthews and I’m looking forward to sharing that with my kids this weekend so we’re definitely coming,” he explained.

The Matthews Heritage Museum is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.