Girls Day Out In: Cleveland, Mississippi

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Nuts About You, the first book in the Midnight Bluff series, is set in a fictional small town outside of Cleveland, Mississippi.

With edits approaching this, of course, called for a road trip. Cleveland is home to my mom’s alma mater Delta State University, so she was just as eager to get reacquainted with the area as I was.

So armed with a few bottles of water, an itinerary I’d created from the Chamber of Commerce website, and an itching desire to hit the road on a sunny, summer day… off we went.

First Stop

A beige building sits in front of a clear blue sky. The sign reads "Martin & Sue Railroad Heritage Museum."
Good thing we didn’t have to rely on my sense of direction to get here…

I’m not the best navigator, so I had just put “Cleveland” into Google Maps. Fortunately, Maps took us straight to one of the stops on our list: The Martin & Sue King Railroad Museum.

I was a little skeptical of putting such a small museum on the list at all, but this museum was so much fun once I opened myself up to the experience!

From the caboose sitting outside, to the rose garden on one side of the building, to the little frogs waiting to greet you when you sign in, this whole place was filled with Southern charm. It’s a great place for small kids and the kid-at-heart.

My Favorite: The scavenger hunt. When you enter, they offer each visitor a pencil, train-shaped eraser, and scavenger hunt sheet to make the (huge) train diorama from just a cool model train to an insanely fun, interactive experience.

Mom and I found all of the items on the list- including the Bigfoot- and were spurred on to check out the rest of the exhibits lining the wall and realize just how many railways used to criss-cross our state. Many of these systems have now been converted to highways or walking and bike trails while others lay unused.

Miniature train tracks winds through a recreated town complete with a drive-in movie theatre.
This is about a fifth of the diorama. And there is a Bigfoot hidden somewhere in it.

Second Stop

It’s a little over two hours from Jackson to Cleveland, so after the Railroad Museum, we were ready for an early lunch.

We headed to the nearby Cotton House Hotel to try out the Delta Meat Market. I grabbed a California Club Sandwich, while Mom ordered a Delta Catfish Poboy with Sweet Potato Logs. Both of our lunches were tasty and after the heat of the morning, it was refreshing to sit in the A/C for a few minutes.

Pro Tip: For most places around Downtown Cleveland, ditch Google Maps and just use this handy map from the Chamber of Commerce so you can focus on all the four-way stops and lights. Much easier way to get around. Fortunately, the locals seem to be used to crazy out-of-towners.

My Favorite: I love the surprising finds. After finishing our lunch, we explored the lobby of the hotel and were delighted to find a tucked-away art gallery filled with local artists.

Third Stop

A colorful mural filled with local symbols and characters spells out "Cleveland."
This colorful mural can be found inside Zoe Coffee Co.

Cotton House Hotel takes up a significant portion of one side of the main square of downtown Cleveland. A good number of our “walking around” activities” were concentrated in this area so all we had to do was step outside.

I really wanted to visit Cotton Row Bookstore, just down the walk from the hotel. Unfortunately, Ms. Virginia was out due to personal matters- so we’ll just have to make another trip! But a few helpful locals pointed us towards some other stores to explore across the square.

Both Mom and I love antiquing and there are some gems in Cleveland. We browsed through Rosson Co. with some of the classiest jewelry I’ve seen in ages and Neysa’s Fireside Shop. I fully plan to go back to Neysa’s in the Spring and get some treasures to tuck around my garden.

It was really nice seeing such a thoughtfully designed and walkable downtown area. This whole section was created to capture foot traffic (not shunt car throughs) and with a gorgeous green space with sculptures and pavilions in the center, in slightly cooler weather, I can see it being a really nice spot for picnics and socializing.

My Favorite: A quick stop to get coffee at Zoe Coffee Co. turned out to be a surprisingly moving experience. While I enjoyed every sip of my dirty chai latte for my afternoon pick-me-up, it was the tiny prayer chapel and rustic displays that drew my attention. Zoe’s mission is to bring life-giving water to Africa. They have one colorful display tracking the progress of their mission, along with handmade products from the communities they support.

A wooden wall with a wrought iron cross covered with paper tags bearing handwritten prayers.
There are tags, pencils, and tape available inside the chapel to write your prayers on.

Fourth Stop

A modern, geometric and plate-glass museum rises in front of a clear blue sky. The front of the building is gray and yellow and covered with super imposed images of celebrity singers.
While photos aren’t allowed inside the museum, the outside kinda speaks for itself.

Maybe I’m just skeptical of museums in general but I was unexpectedly blown away by the next stop we made: the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.

One of the things that I had to wrap my head around is that this museum isn’t just for Grammy winners from Mississippi (of which there are a ton highlighted on one entire wall!) But this is an entire GRAMMY museum. As in the complete history of the Grammys.

I was blown away by the history and development of the Grammys- including the honest discussion of controversies surrounding the awards and categories. The exhibits and displays were really well designed and very interactive.

With DSU’s music program and Memphis’ Sun Studios having a strong relationship with the Grammy’s highlighted in the exhibits, the local tie-in was there without overpowering the whole show. I especially enjoyed seeing how the revolution from radio to TV to YouTube and streaming has affected the music industry.

While I couldn’t quite convince my mom to write and produce a song with me (there were booths set up to walk you through how to do this) there were plenty of other exhibits we had fun exploring and playing with. If you have a musically or artistically inclined kid, this is a great place to bring them for an afternoon!

Fifth Stop

Visiting Cleveland wouldn’t be complete without a pottery hunt!

While both of these stops are technically outside of Cleveland, they are less than a 10-minute drive away and they display the BEST of the “Mississippi mud” technique of pottery and sculpture.

These two families use locally dug clay (and some pigments) to craft their pottery. Both of these lines are favorites in gift shops around the South, and increasingly the entire US, and competition to collect the pieces is FIERCE.

Cotton white platters, bowls, plates, and vases sit on a table covered by a burlap tablecloth.
Peter’s Pottery just says “Mississippi” to me.

Our first pottery stop was at Peter’s Pottery in Mound Bayou, founded by the Woods brothers in 1998. I loved this place. While the pieces looked simpler at first glance, they evoked a homeyness and sturdiness that I found comforting. My mom got a gorgeous cream-colored pitcher, while I focused on poultry, purchasing a hen and duck, both in jade. Maybe next year, I’ll spring for a turkey to complete the set.

What is so remarkable about Peter’s Pottery is both the family and their community spirit. The three Woods brothers used all their resources to open a 10×17 shop to sell their pottery. Their original workshop was just 4000 sq ft. and handbuilt of cypress wood that they swapped materials for with the owners of Linden Plantation. They asked to be included in the Mound Bayou city limits so the city would receive the sales tax benefits. Today, the business has expanded and ships to retailers all around the South.

A wooden building with a window A/C unit. The entrance is surrounded by cane.
When we pulled up, I started laughing because I felt like we were about to go on a crazy adventure. And I was right.

Next up, we headed to McCarty Pottery founded in Merigold in 1954, just another few minutes down the road back towards Cleveland. Their pieces are especially beautiful and artistic, featuring unique glazes that have been developed by the family over the decades.

What I love about McCarty Pottery is how it displays both Southern artistry and the Southern will to innovate. The pottery studio was begun with extremely limited funds in a mule barn by Lee and Pup McCarty using clay found in a ravine with the blessing of William Faulkner. Today, it is a thriving family business.

If you want to make your trip extra-special, the onsite Gallery restaurant is open from 11:30 – 1:30 Tuesday thru Saturday (reservations are encouraged!)

Pro Tip: If you want to go to McCarty Pottery, be prepared to get there when the doors open. We got there not too long before closing and there were only a few pieces left on the shelves. People were coming out with boxes and bags full of their purchases. So be prepared.

My Favorite: Beginning with a tunnel of bamboo at the entrance, the gardens at a McCarty Pottery are a lush surprise that wind through the buildings. Each section features a pool and water garden along with a mixture of exotic and native plants left to thrive in “benign neglect.” (My personal favorite way to garden. Once most plants are established they rarely need a lot of fiddling with if they’re in a good spot and healthy.) These gardens have been thoughtfully designed with lots of gorgeous surprises and delightful nooks to explore. Definitely take the time to stroll through!

A reflecting pool surrounded by monkey grass, shrubs, and other greenery.
Pretty sure we spent more time in the gardens than we did in the studio. It was gorgeous!

Sixth & Last Stop

A good road trip wouldn’t be complete without a great hunt through a flea market. I had Moonstruck Flea Market on our itinerary and had seen a billboard for it, so I knew we just had to hit it before we headed out of Cleveland.

This is the sort of place serious antiquers go to find hidden gems. Crammed from floor to ceiling with every imaginable item, this store reminded me of my grandma’s attic. Divided into vendor booths, some sections focused on tchotchkes and old costume jewelry, others antique tools, some had refurbished furniture, and one was crammed full of comic books.

Of course, I spent a lot of time pouring over a shelf of local authors. And I found a neat basket full of old black and white photos that make for great writing inspo. My mom grabbed a few gifts for my dad and niece.

Hitting The Road

It’s HOT in the Mississippi Delta in the middle of July! So by 4 PM we were worn out and ready to head home.

There are several more places on my list that I would like to check out on my trip to Cleveland (soooo much food!) We didn’t get to try Airport Grocery or explore Dockery Farms or DSU at all. But for a quick day trip, I think we did pretty well.

For our next trip, I think I’ll try to time it for one of the Keep Cleveland Boring festivals.

Or maybe I’ll just come back in the spring and enjoy the cool weather and beautiful artwork and flowers on the square.

A field of sunflowers bathed in late afternoon sunlight underneath a blazing blue sky.
Sunflowers on the way home, just outside of Belzoni.

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