“It’s fun to be on the edge. I think you do your best work when you take chances, when you’re not safe, when you’re not in the middle of the road, at least for me, anyway.” — Danny DeVito
What’s the first thing you think of when I say the word “Cleveland”?
I asked that question of a friend years ago, when I was writing about one of my favorite places, the little town that sits right on the edge of Rowan County, less than three miles from Iredell County.
“Ohio?” came his answer.
Noooooo. There was a question mark in his voice, but I am not giving him any credit for that.
Move forward to May 2019 and meet Christine Brown, whose great-grandfather owned the flour mill and whose family still owns the land there, now a grassy slope where summer concerts are planned. She is fifth-generation local of Cleveland, NC, and she is one of the forces behind moving the town of 900 people forward.
Mention Cleveland, and people do think of Cleveland, Ohio, or Cleveland County, NC, she says. They don’t think of Cleveland, NC.
But she does. She is all about the business of telling the story of the Town of Cleveland. She’s a health industry consultant, but since she bought and renovated one of the big 1800s houses on West Main Street, she has made her herself over into the role of town promoter. She has taken a real estate course in Mecklenburg County and learned that the land in Rowan and Stanly counties are considered the last two opportunities left in the region to get development right. Western Rowan County is growing at the rate of 38%, the same as Mecklenburg – “and without being marketed!” she says.
For Sale, With Restrictions
She wants Cleveland to grow, but she wants it done right. She has family land for sale, with restrictions. “I’m trying to find something to complement the community’s well being,” she says.
Her, her brother, and her uncle raise Angus beef cattle on part of the land. She envisions the Dr. Charles Fleming House that she has renovated becoming a community gathering place for meetings or parties.
Although she grew up in Mooresville, she came to her grandparents’ home every Sunday for church and the big Sunday dinner. Cleveland is home. Her childhood memories are of pedaling her purple bicycle along the shady streets, without a worry about safety, and playing tag football in the yard.
Her Cleveland story is one of gorgeous landscapes, large farms that have been in families for decades, a growing equestrian following, the beauty of Young’s Mountain, Third Creek that draw hunters and fishermen, a concentration of 10 community churches, and of course, the huge Daimler Trucks manufacturing plant, the largest employer in the county.
A Future of Innovation
She sees a future of innovation, growing from the skilled craftsmanship of the men and women who build the giant trucks at Daimler and win national awards, and artists like Leslie Hudson-Tolles. Hudson-Tolles brings other artists to Cleveland for workshops.
“Cleveland is poised for what I call ‘intentional growth,’ says Brown. “The people here are the backbone of North Carolina. It’s quiet, it’s charming, and we have the infrastructure.” The 21-cent tax rate is the lowest in Rowan; there is easy access to Interstates 77, 40, and 85; and 3.5 million people live within a 50-mile radius.
The new $24 million West Rowan Elementary School opened on Mimosa Street in January. Right around the corner, is School Street which is a hub of building activity. Novant Health Rowan Medical Center is constructing a satellite office here, Rowan Public Library is moving a branch into the former Cleveland School, a community meeting space is planned for the old school auditorium, an EMS station is planned, and a new fire department is under construction. Two wedding venues, The Arbors and the Vista at Walnut Hill, are here as well.
The Cleveland Board of Aldermen is working to improve sidewalks, curb and gutter, and street lighting. Future plans include creating walking trails at the town park. The town recently became golf-cart friendly and has approved a plan for Saturday summer concerts called “Summer Break.” The concerts will be held on the grassy hillside on Depot Street where Brown’s great-grandfather’s flour mill once stood. Folks are invited to bring lawn chairs and enjoy the band, Seven Road”on Saturday, June 22, from 5-8 p.m. Other concerts are scheduled on July 27 and August 24.
“We know what we have,” says Christine. “We want other people to know. Local resident Evelyn Allison, who authored the book, The First 100 Years: Cleveland, North Carolina 1883-1983, wrote of “a Norman Rockwell town.”
“We want it to be like a modern-day Norman Rockwell town,” Brown says. “We want to retain the sense of people, the sense of kindness, and also be recognized for innovation on lots of different levels. We want to connect.”
“Life comes full circle, and I am back to my roots,” she says. “My dad died 19 years ago. It is a blessing to do things on behalf of my family. I was once told by Hospice that what you want for people who are no longer here, you can actually bring to life and carry out. They can live on through your actions and what you do to contribute.”