Spirit of Rowan 2023: Rowan County’s new boomtown: The Town of Rockwell

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

Before the town of Rockwell was incorporated into Rowan County by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1911, it was a large camping site in the 1800s for travelers who were making their way to the South Carolina coastline for salt.

The campers would hop off their horses, let them rest and set up their tents around a large rock well. That’s how the town became Rockwell.

“It was a pretty place with great oak trees hewed out for the horses to drink from,” said Mabel Kluttz in a 1953 bicentennial edition of the Salisbury Post. Kluttz, known as the “First Lady of Rockwell,” was a highly regarded town historian.

Now the camping site has turned into an up-and-coming town of 2,200 residents and two of Rockwell’s town aldermen are looking to make the future even better, while also reflecting on the time they spent growing up there.

Memories of Rockwell’s past

Town of Rockwell Alderman Chris Cranford, 67, was born in Rockwell in 1955 and remembers the town for the simple pleasures it had to offer during his childhood. He remembers organizing games of football, basketball and baseball with his friends against other kids in town, and just generally always being outside, which is a joy Cranford said kids nowadays don’t understand.

“We had the best time, best environment as far as being a kid -— better than they do today. We were out playing sports all the time and doing things and now they’re doing this all the time,” Cranford said as he mimicked texting on a phone.

He admitted that there weren’t many places to go as far as restaurants or places to hang out, so most of his time was spent playing at Rockwell Park and eating dinners at home with his family. He also remembered going out hunting for rabbits.

“I’ll say it til the day I die: I lived during the best time for a kid to grow up in Rockwell,” Cranford said.

Cranford was first elected as alderman in 2019 and said his main reason for running was because he wanted to see more people who were “born and bred in Rockwell.” But although he is reminiscent of his childhood in Rockwell, he said he understands that growth is necessary for any town to survive.

“The world is bigger. It’s the sign of the times, you’ve got to grow to be able to exist,” he said.

Alderman Dillon Brewer, 30, has seen that growth during his childhood in Rockwell and is set on creating more while he is on the board. When asked what he remembers about the town when he was a kid, Brewer said “a lot of empty lots.” But in the last 10 to 15 years he has seen businesses like McDonalds, CVS Pharmacy, Sonic and O’Reilly’s take up residence in the town.

As Cranford did when he was a kid, Brewer said his childhood days were spent going to the park, playing sports and spending days with friends and family.

Brewer was heavily involved in student government in middle school and high school. He was vice president of the North Carolina Association of Student Councils his senior year. Once he graduated, he went straight to work in the auto industry, but he always wanted to get back to helping with his community. He was elected as an alderman in 2021.

“I just wanted to take an additional step to serve my neighbors,” Brewer said. “There’s a lot of growth in certain areas that I thought I could help with in my community.”

The new Rockwell

With new housing developments being built, the town’s population is expected to double in the next 10 years to close to 4,500 residents.

The influx of people means more businesses will be setting up shop in the town. In fact, some have already. Bojangles has been approved by the board of aldermen, as well as The Morning Glory coffee shop. The Rowan-Kannopolis ABC Board is also building a new store. Brewer is hoping that even more businesses will see how thriving Rockwell has become and want to follow suit.

Rockwell residents also recently voted for a liquor-by-the-drink referendum in the November election. The referendum allows alcoholic mixed-beverages, such as margaritas, to be sold at restaurants in town. And to address the growing population the town also built a state-of-the-art police department located on U.S. 52.

More business in town is always a good thing, but Both Cranford and Brewer said they would like residents of the town to be more involved in community activities, which is something they have been working on as aldermen. To help new residents find out about community events, the town redesigned their website and launched its first “Town of Rockwell” facebook page, which gained 700 likes in three days.

“That’s one of the things when I’m going somewhere, I want to look at their town’s website or Facebook to see what kind of events they have,” said Brewer, who helped spearhead the redesign of the town’s website and create the Facebook page.

Brewer also helped create the first Town of Rockwell Cornhole Tournament last year, which he wants to become an annual event. There were 48 teams and around 200 people showed up. But that’s just the start. The big event that is being planned for this summer is the “Rock the Park” festival which will feature live music, food trucks and vendors. There are also plans for a Food Truck Friday Festival where food trucks from all over the county will be able to drive in and sell to residents. Lastly, the town is planning to celebrate a home every month with a “Yard of Month” competition.

“We’re just trying to do more events to bring a sense of community to Rockwell. It’s something we’ve really been missing out on,” Brewer said.