Originally named Stumptown, Matthews' early history started as a small cotton-farming community. In 1825, the name of the community was changed to Fullwood after John Fullwood, who operated the Stagecoach Inn and became the area's first postmaster. The Carolina Central Railway Company built a railroad through the town in 1874, and people flocked to see the "Iron Horse." The name was finally changed to Matthews after the director of the railroad. The city was officially incorporated in 1879. Soon Matthews boasted several churches, a brick schoolhouse (now the historic Matthews Community Center), a hotel, a gristmill, a blacksmith, a bank, and three general stores.
Famous Matthews natives include Dr. Selma Burke, world-famous artist and sculptress and creator of the image of President Roosevelt on the dime, and Johnny Crowell, the only North Carolinian ever inducted into the aviation hall of fame. Neither of these famous figures ever forgot their roots. Dr. Burke eventually donated an outdoor sculpture to the Fullwood Trace neighborhood and Crowell served as parade Marshall of the 1977 Stumptown Festival.
After World War II, the small community began to develop quickly. Matthews felt the effects of the boom in growth that occurred in Charlotte and the community soon saw an influx of businesses, housing developments, and people. Large corporations began to move in and some located their headquarters in Matthews. In 1994, the town experienced further growth when a 240,000-square-foot hospital facility was built and annexation spread Matthews' boundaries even more.