The City of Gastonia was incorporated in 1877, the year reconstruction ended. The impetus for the early development of Gastonia, which began in 1873 as a small railroad depot, was the combined effect of the realignment of the Atlanta & Charlotte Airline Railroad (now Norfolk Southern) from its original intended path several miles to the north of the City, the charter of the Chester and Lenoir Narrow Gauge Railroad (now CSX) which crossed the Atlanta & Charlotte railroad and the introduction of the steam powered textile mill. The crossing of these two railroads and the beginning of the City's textile industry brought opportunity for employment and social life. The initial population of the town was approximately 200 people and the land area was less than one square mile.
The City's original population was reflective of the surrounding county and was comprised of English, German, Scotch Highlander, and Scotch-Irish citizens, with a few African American residents also moving into the settlement. Voted the county seat in 1911, Gastonia today has a population of more than 72,000 and land area of approximately 51.7 square miles. It is the largest of Gaston County's 15 municipalities and is the economic engine of the county. Gastonia is also one of the 15 largest cities in North Carolina. The City has operated continuously under the Council-Manager form of government since its adoption in 1919.