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Why Do We Have So Much Industry? It All Started with the Shell Plant

(October 17, 2018) The Westinghouse Industrial Corridor is reportedly the second largest employment center in Mecklenburg County behind Uptown Charlotte and is the largest industrial employment concentration in the state of North Carolina. An estimated 33,000 workers are employed along Westinghouse Boulevard and Carowinds Boulevard in Steele Creek.

The corridor is the dominant feature affecting the geography of Steele Creek. It carves a large nonresidential swath through the middle of our community, separating Ayrsley, Berewick, Taragate, Whitehall, and other residential and commercial areas to the north from the Crossings, the Palisades, RiverGate, the Sanctuary, Yorkshire, and other residential and commercial areas to the south. It provides employment for many Steele Creek residents but also generates a huge amount of traffic from employees driving into Steele Creek and clogging I-485 inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon. A large network of railroad spurs totaling about 30 miles continues to serve industries in Steele Creek today.

Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns on a Mk 12
 quadruple mount firing on board
USS Hornet (CV-12), circa February 1945,
probably during gunnery practice.

It all got started in 1942 when a facility known locally as the Shell Plant was built on former farmland to produce ordinance to support the Navy effort during World War II. The old Shell Plant covered 2260 acres.

At its height the plant had more than 12,000 employees, over 90% of them women, and peak production was 213,143 rounds in 24 hours on December 7, 1944. Buses brought in workers from surrounding counties to staff three shifts. The Steele Creek plant stayed in full production until Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945. Later that year, the Shell Plant was commissioned a naval ammunition reserve depot.

The map below shows the area of the Shell Plant in yellow cross hatch with current streets based on a variety of historic maps.

The land was sold by the federal government in 1959 to a group of investors. It became the Arrowood Business Park and was subdivided and sold off in smaller parcels. In 1968 Westinghouse (now Siemens) built its massive turbine plant to the west near Shopton Road West and extended Westinghouse Boulevard west from the Arrowood Business Park. Later additional industrial development occurred along Westinghouse Boulevard both east and west of the old Shell Plant as well as along Carowinds Boulevard. This development helped define the character of today's Steele Creek.

The main Shell Plant cafeteria was located on what is now Westinghouse Boulevard about 1000 feet east of the current South Tryon Street. The original building burned in 1944 but was soon rebuilt. The rebuilt cafeteria has been the location of various restaurants over the years and is now home to La Poblanita Mexican Restaurant and the Trap. It most likely is the only building still left today that existed when the plant closed in 1957.

The map below shows the property after 1960 when it was owned by Arrowood Inc. Click HERE or on the image to view a detailed version of the map in a new tab.

As the map below shows, the Westinghouse Corridor is one of the major employment areas of Mecklenburg County. The corridor from Shopton Road West to where Westinghouse Boulevard crosses I-485 to the east and the Carowinds Boulevard area has nearly 40,000 employees according to Charlotte Planning Department estimates. About 33,000 of these are employed west of I-77 in Steele Creek. This is the legacy of the Shell Plant in Steele Creek. (See Rapid Steele Creek Population Growth is Expected to Continue.)

2015 Employment

Please use the following links to view three articles adapted from stories collected or written by Walter Neely and published in Gleanings, Newsletter of the Steele Creek Historical and Genealogical Society.

Part 1: Steele Creek Farmland Converted to Navy Ordinance Plant in 1942
Part 2: Steele Creek Contributed to the World War II Effort
Part 3: The Shell Plant Becomes Arrowood Business Park

Please email info@steelecreekresidents.org if you would like to receive copies of the original articles in Gleanings.

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