Virgin Lane is about to become a major project taken on by Keep Cleveland Beautiful, an organization under the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce.
In an oral history by the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage of The University of Southern Mississippi, LePoint Cassibry Smith recalls what the alley and downtown looked like many years ago when the alley was called "Virgin Lane."
"Well, we had boardwalks, and I think, I don't know when the concrete walks were done. But I vaguely remember walking on boardwalks. But they were all storefronts, mostly, I guess, just frame buildings … The downtown had several Chinese grocery stores. And the Chinese lived in the back. And they had chickens and pigs and things in the alley. They called it 'Virgin Lane' back there.
"And that was where they all lived, a number of Chinese families. Next door to Kamien's was one. But we shopped at a store where the commissary (is); they just called 'Picnic.' And that was easy to walk over to. We'd have rummage sales on Saturday. People would take all their old clothes down and sell them on the—well, they call it the 'green strip' now, but on the railroad," said Smith.
John White Valentine, an attorney in Cleveland, remembered what the area was like when he was growing up. He also made a visit to the courthouse to look for the alley and where it was originally located.
"In 1919 there was a little short alley in there about 200 feet from North Street in Hardee subdivision, block 3 of the original town of Cleveland.
"When I was small, Main Street was always very busy. Along there near North Street just where Neysa's is were several Chinese grocery stores. They backed up on to that alley and if you went to town on Saturday night the sidewalks were full of people. That of course was both races on the Main Street —sitting there talking.
"Around behind the stores is where Virgin L ane was and there were several small little stores back there along with some warehouses. It was off limits to me and we couldn’t go back there. But it was always just that crowded," he said.
Over the years the alley became a walkway to the back parking lots of the downtown area. Different schools painted and decorated the alley in the 1970s and those paintings are still there today.
However, now those back parking lots are not used often and the alley is not well lit, causing it to be somewhat of a dangerous area in the evenings, so it stays locked up unless a major event is happening in the downtown area such as Octoberfest or Crosstie.
It is the goal of Keep Cleveland Beautiful to open up this space, make it well lit, and allow Cleveland residents and visitors to enjoy the area when visiting downtown.
"In addition to improving the appearance of the alley, we want to promote the historical significance of the alley. As we approach the opening of the Grammy Museum, we need to really think about things that visitors can do while in Cleveland.
"The more tours, public art, historical information we can provide, the longer we will have their attention. We want for tourists to come to Cleveland for the Grammy Museum and stay and spend time and money here in Cleveland. Cleveland is more than a one-stop shop and we want to really focus on developing an inventory for travelers to access," said Lisa Cooley, director of Keep Cleveland Beautiful.
When Keep Cleveland Beautiful has their kick-off and large community cleanup, the alley will be one of the main projects.
To volunteer for the clean up call the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce at 662-843-2712.