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  • Liz Logan

Four Historic Gaston County Homes and the Story Behind Them

Charlotte has become one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and with that distinction comes a significant impact on surrounding cities. This growth has impacted Gaston County in a profound way, with the proximity to uptown and airport amenities while maintaining an elevated hometown feel. New homes are under construction, older homes are for sale, and in the midst of it all are homes that have managed to withstand the changes time brings.

This population boom is not the first in Gaston County’s history. Founded in 1846 by State Supreme Court Justice, William Gaston, Gaston County saw rapid growth in the years of 1845-1849 which brought about significant cultural and economic changes with an influx of textile mills.

Courtesy of Separk Mansion

Some of these homes still remain, with one of the most striking being Separk Mansion, which has survived the ebb and flow of centuries and is currently acting as a privately owned event venue. On a much different side of history is the John T. Biggers home, a small mill house built by Biggers’ father in the early 1920s and has escaped the ravages of time due to family descendants that still own the property.

The once-booming mills that brought so much vitality to the county lost steam in the 1980s almost as quickly as they’d erupted nearly a century prior, thanks to foreign production and process automation. There was an inability for the local mills to compete with larger corporations and lower labor costs thus forcing the mills to die out. Despite the textile boom of the 19th and early 20th century being largely responsible for the formation and growth of Gaston County, Director of the Gaston County Museum of Art & History Jason Luker says it played its role and it’s good the county has progressed in the way it has. The fall of the textile mills has allowed for growth in other areas and allowed Gaston to branch into other areas of economic growth and preservation.

“The best thing to happen in Gaston County is the fall of textiles,” Luker asserts. “We have been able to keep the structures here, not following Charlotte’s model of demolishing historic structures for the sake of newness. We are able to keep things as they are and have the opportunity to overcome the economic problems of the past and save a vast and unique history.”

Courtesy of Hoyle Historic Homestead

As for the growth of the county, it was not without some of the more challenging facts of history that dot the south. It should not go without saying that many of these early historic homes were built by the enslaved, like the Hoyle House which was owned by Andrew Hoyle, known as “Rich Andrew.”

While beautiful and well preserved, many of these historic homes were built on the back of the oppressed, a history Luker says is unfortunate but must be acknowledged. Like others in the slave trade of the south, Luker says, “one of the most valuable things the Hoyle’s owned was people.”

Fast forward into the twentieth century and Luker says there was a clear line of demarcation of white and black.

“Both were good sides of town with families of moderate means. What happened, however, is that more resources were poured into the white side of town while officials of the 1940s through 1960s saw the black side of town as ‘something to be dealt with.’ This then caused property values on the white side of town to increase while the denied support of the black communities caused values to plummet.”

“Gaston County has dirt underneath its fingernails,” Luker says. “While there is a bit of preserved history not available in surrounding counties, here you feel the history. You see the struggles and the triumphs. We can learn how to grow and not allow history to repeat itself. There is something to be said about a county still building itself.”

John T. Biggers House

Paul Biggers, Courtesy of Gaston County Museum of Art & History

Built in the 1920s by Paul Biggers, the home is of note not only because it is a long-standing structure but because it was the childhood home of Harlem Renaissance artist John T. Biggers who grew up in Gaston County. It was also the art studio of James Biggers, John T. Biggers nephew, who was also an accomplished artist and local educator. The home is a private residency and is not open to the general public.

Separk Mansion

209 West 2nd Avenue, Gastonia

Before and after renovations photo, courtesy of Separk Mansion

Separk Mansion, built in 1919, is a notable historic structure occupied Joseph Separk, son-in-law and business partner to George Alexander Gray who was one of Gaston County’s most influential textile mill pioneers. Gray began his career as a child laborer in Stowe Manufacturing Mill, but grew to be one of the most influential textile mill pioneers in the region. He is best known for building Loray Mill, the largest textile mill under one roof at the time of its construction, and operating a number of mills throughout the area. Joseph Separk took over management of the mills after Gray’s untimely death in 1912. This beautiful Renaissance Revival style home is available for rentals.

Andrew Hoyle House

1214 Dallas-Stanley Highway, Dallas

Courtesy of Gaston County Museum of Art & History

Described by Luker as “kind of a goofy house”, this southern plantation style home is considered the oldest structure still standing in the county. Originally built by “Rich Andrew” Hoyle in the 18th century, multiple descendants had added onto the structure over the years, giving it a unique layout that details the progression of time and taste. The home also played a key role in early development in the region. The family farm eventually came to be known as “Hoylesville” when a post office was incorporated in Andrew’s home in 1812 for the growing community. Like most farms in the region, the family’s biggest cash crop was corn which was used for food as well as whiskey. Today the home is owned by a nonprofit group, Hoyle Historic Homestead, Inc., that maintains the structure and opens it during annual events for visitors to appreciate the buildings eccentric design.

Thomas Rhyne House

Courtesy of Library of Congress, photographer Francis Benjamin Johnston, 1938

Recognized as a National Bicentennial Farm in 1988, the Thomas Rhyne House has been occupied by Rhyne family descendants since its inception in 1779. This year is prominently embedded in the home’s brick exterior, giving the federalist style home a unique demarcation specific to Rhyne’s design. This Stanley home is on Kuykendahl’s Creek (sometimes referred to as Hoyles Creek) and is position on the 202 acres of land Rhyne purchased in 1777.

Many thanks to Jason Luker from the Gaston County Museum of Art & History from his contributions to this article. Resources from the Brevard Station Museum in Stanley were utilized in compiling information regarding the Thomas Rhyne House

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