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The History of Pailin's Alley

Posted on 05/13/2020 by Breanna Brower

If you walk through Pailin’s Alley in its current state you will find it dotted with decorative plants, strung with Edison lights, and delightful restaurants and bars on either side - it wasn't always this way! The story of the alley we know and love today goes back to the 1800s with William Pailin, a leading businessman, farmer, and fisherman in Pasquotank County. In 1881 he purchased the spot of land that is now known as Pailin’s Alley.


Within 15 years of purchasing the land, Pailin transformed it into an industrial area complete with a rice mill, shipyard, lumber warehouse, and oyster packing plant. William Pailin’s impact reached far beyond just Elizabeth City with fisheries along the Perquimans River and at Mann’s Harbor. Some would consider him one of our area’s first business tycoons!

Pailin died in 1907 and was buried alongside his wife in the Episcopal Church Cemetery. Part of his property, now known as Elizabeth Street, was donated to the City. The old mill and shipyard site was reoccupied by W.H. Weatherly Candy Factory, and the building on the east side of the alley transformed first to a horse livery, then tavern, then ice cream factory. By 1931 most of his downtown establishments had all but disappeared, with the exception of the deteriorating marine railway and the disheveled alleyway. 

For years, the alley remained vacant and unappealing but in October of 2016 this all began to change! Hoppin' Johnz opened its doors and became the first restaurant of Pailin's Alley offering delicious new south cuisine, drinks, and live entertainment in an area that was once undiscovered.

Further revitalization of the alley began when Ghost Harbor Brewing Company decided to open their microbrewery but faced the challenge of the uninviting alleyway serving as the only access. Prior to the transformation of the alley, only two businesses had agreements with the City for use and the alley was divided by dilapidating wooden fencing. It was functional, but a far cry from the reinvigorated social scene it is now. Since then, Pailin’s Alley Collective, consisting of Hoppin’ Johnz, Ghost Harbor, Coaster’s Draughthouse, and The Mills, has been established. These five businesses now use the revitalized and beautified alleyway for entertainment and outdoor dining.

On any given weekend, Pailin’s Alley comes alive with cozy lighting, friends enjoying a drink, the scent of delicious meals from nearby restaurants, live music or trivia, and all around good vibes! Locals and visitors have come to love Pailin’s Alley in recent years as a central gathering area for Elizabeth City’s downtown patrons. It’s safe to say that downtown Elizabeth City as we know it would not exist without Pailin’s Alley.

For more information about Elizabeth City, things to do, and places to eat, check out our Insider's Guide Blog for a local's perspective on why EC is a great place to visit any time of year!

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