According to Ron Collins, owner of the www.vaiden.net website, “Vaiden, Mississippi is not Heaven, but it’s probably in the same zip code.”
It may be harder to find a bigger fan in the state of Mississippi of the town of Vaiden than Ron Collins. Since the Fall of 1999, Collins has been sharing his favorite memories and a wealth of history about his hometown of Vaiden.
Collins love of Vaiden history has been ingrained in him since birth, but he points back to 1976 where his real passion for local history began. During the Vaiden Bicentennial, the Vaiden Garden Club composed ‘The Vaiden Heritage,” a book containing the history of Vaiden. It was composed of early Vaiden photos and information about the founding of Vaiden.
“Some of the old advertisements really caught my attention as well, and I spent hours looking at that book,” Collins said. “As a kid, I had explored just about every ‘nook and cranny’ of Vaiden – from gathering supplies for my treehouse to playing at the Old Shongalo junkyard, to riding bicycles all over town, with not a worry in the world.”
The first house Collins lived in was by the Vaiden Cemetery just on the edge of Old Shongalo. His dad used to pull him in his Radio Flyer wagon into Old Shongalo to get sand for his sandbox. Highway 35 was gravel back then in the late 50s and early 60s, and it divided their property from Old Shongalo, and Collins often went with his dad when he went squirrel hunting in the creeks and hollows there.
“We roamed all through the area and, at that time, I never knew the history that was underneath my feet,” Collins said.
Around late Fall 1961, the Collins family built and moved into a house by the Vaiden School. Mr. Prewitt, the Principal, lived next door. It was only about 150 yards from the front door of the school, so he never had to ride a bus to school. Collins still owns that house.
“My maternal grandparents, J.C. and Exyah Bond Hambrick, and uncles, Harvey and Claude Hambrick, are buried in the Vaiden Cemetery,” Collins said. “Since we lived across the street from the cemetery, my mom (Juanita Hambrick Collins Rhine) and I used to put flowers on their graves often. Having my mom explain the roles that these people had played in the early life of Vaiden, was something I heard all throughout my childhood. We would sit on our front porch and listen to the Whippoorwills in the cemetery and Mom would tell about the people of early Vaiden.”
Collins’ aunt, Louise Caddess kept children for the Vaiden community and his uncle, Wilson Caddess, owned Caddess Radio and Television repair behind where the Vaiden Bank currently sits. Wilson’s shop was in the building that his grandfather, J.C. Hambrick, had built-in 1946. Johnny Hambrick had been a blacksmith in Vaiden for many years and his shop was previously in the building where Austin’s Dry Cleaners was. When his grandfather built the newer shop in 1946, he used it as his blacksmith shop until his death in 1951. Wilson used it as a radio and television repair shop until he retired. Wilson was also the Fire Chief and Water Superintendent in Vaiden for over 40 years. Wilson’s dad, Leonard T. Caddess, owned and ran Caddess Grocery on Hwy. 407 in Winona (across from the Winona Country Club) for many years.
“From climbing the steps in the courthouse tower and ringing the bell at the stroke of midnight on a Saturday night (the clock was not working at the time) in order to scare anyone that might be listening to playing football every evening possible after school, to riding go-karts, bicycles and motorcycles and my 1972 Plymouth ‘Cuda, to spending many Saturday morning at Caddess TV shop eating parched peanuts of the coal-fired pot-bellied cast iron stove there, I couldn’t imagine a better childhood,” Collins said. “I started and graduated from Vaiden. I spent all 12 years in the same building and couldn’t have had better teachers in any other place on earth. I made many friends there.”
It was at Vaiden Schools where he met two of his life-long best friends, Tom Evans and Dennis Welch.
Tom lived in the Hebron area across the Big Black River and Collins spent many days and nights camping out in the country and exploring that area, as well. On the way to Tom’s house, Collins had the opportunity to ride the school bus. Because he lived so close to school, he never rode the bus.
“Those wonderful memories and the crazy things we did as kids will always be with me,” Collins said. “When Tom would spend the night with me, we would often explore Vaiden and visit with all our friends. Even today in Florence, Tom and I live only a few miles apart. If you ever walk into a conversation that Tom and I are having, be prepared to visit the past. You might as well pull up a chair, because you’ll be there a while.”
His friend, Dennis lived in Vaiden by the Vaiden Presbyterian Church and they would often ride bicycles to Winona on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to see a movie.
Collins said in 1999, Dennis came for a visit and lunch and the discussion turned to web pages.
“I had written some web pages with general information about Mississippi and different subjects while I was a law student at Mississippi College School of Law,” Collins said. “He brought up the question as to why I didn’t write a web page about Vaiden. Knowing that I was obsessive-compulsive about Vaiden, I thought better of the idea because I knew it would never end if I started looking for information.”
Dennis’ mom, the late Frances “Bud” Welch, was a Vaiden historian. She and Clarence Pierce would always tell Collins things about Vaiden.
“They had forgotten more about Vaiden than I’ll ever know,” Collins said. “And to them, I’ll always be grateful.”
Although Dennis mentioned the idea of a website about Vaiden, Collins thought better of the idea. And by the time Dennis made it back home to Grenada, Collins had changed his mind. The first Vaiden web page was on the internet.
“To begin with, I wrote the Vaiden Site just for me, as a massive “diary,” with memories and facts about my childhood,” Collins said. “As of October 16, 2016, there are currently 299 web pages on the Vaiden.net website. At least 85 to 90 percent of those pages pertain to the history of Vaiden and the memories of the best town I could have ever grown up in.”
Collins said people from everywhere have signed the guestbook and all have given it a favorable rating.
“Many messages left in the guestbook ask if I can put them in contact with a relative,” Collins said. “Others tell me of visiting or living there for a time. One entry told of a guy that stopped in Vaiden when, I believe, working on the railroad and broke his ankle when he stepped off the train. Although there is a Vaiden airstrip in Alabama, Vaiden is the only town or city in the world with that name.”
The layout of the website is the same as it was from day one, and while his friends have mentioned that Collins needs to make it look more modern, he said it is the way it is for a reason.
“Many of the main pages are themed in black – the color of mourning for the town that once was,” Collins said. “There is too much information for a rewrite, so it will stay the same – for now. Remember, it was originally written for me, with no one else in mind. However, all are welcome and it’s great to know that there are people interested in knowing the history of Vaiden. We don’t know where we’re going, until we know where we’ve been.”
Collins said so many people have been an incredible help has he has accumulated photos, documents and information for the website.
“The history of Vaiden involves us all, and it is really great to know that people care,” Collins said.
The best way to tell what is next for the site, is to look at http://www.vaiden.net/wish_list.html. Any information listed there is still needed.
“The more, the better,” Collins said. “Everyone needs to understand that procrastination could cause information to be lost. There are many people out there that have old pictures and stories of Vaiden that are tucked away in a box somewhere. Upon that person’s death, grandchildren or others will come around and throw all of that valuable information away because they need the space, or just because they don’t know what it is. If you have ANY information or pictures of Vaiden from long ago, I would love to scan them and put them on the site.”
Some of the photos Collins has been looking for include pictures of the Vaiden Theatre on Front Street, the old Ice House that was across the railroad tracks by the Henry Canon house and the Gristmill that was behind the Vaiden Bank and any old houses. The wish list tells in detail what is still needed.
Collins now lives in Florence, but is still very involved in the Vaiden and Carroll County community. He still has a home in Vaiden and votes locally and maybe will move back some day, despite the fact that most of his relatives are no longer in Vaiden or have passed.
“Facebook has kept me in touch with many of my childhood friends and we have the ‘Vaiden Reunion of the Classes’ the first Saturday in August every year,” Collins said. “I look forward to the next reunion as soon as one ends. As of today (10/16/2016), the next reunion is only 9 months and 20 days away…but who’s counting?”
Collins does a lot of research for Findagrave (http://www.findagrave.com), and has been known to speak on the subject of history for the Carroll County Historical Society.
“History is my passion,” Collins said, “It was not one of my best subjects when I was in high school, though.”
In school, one of the things many Vaiden High members will remember Collins as a drummer. He started playing second chair cornet in the Vaiden Band when he was in the 4th grade and eventually moved up to 1st chair, but gave it up for the drums when Collins was in the 8th grade. Collins started his first band in Vaiden in 1968, called The Livin’ End. Other than Collins, the members were Kenny Loftin, Jack Fullilove, Van Simpson and Mike Simpson. In 1969, the band won the Jaycees’ First Annual Talent Show in Carrollton. He also was in the band, “Cold Fire” in high school.
“We threw our own dances at the Vaiden Community Center and had a faithful gathering of followers,” Collins said.
Later, there was “Magnolia Blue,” and the “John C. ‘Bubba’ Calhoun Band,” during the days of the Country Music Palace in Vaiden. Since then, there was “The Earl Bishop Band,” the “Hi-Lites,” “Borderline,” and “Lock-n-Load.” Collins has recordings, pictures and information about Magnolia Blue, The Earl Bishop Band, The Hi-Lites and Borderline and the Jaycees’ Talent Show on the website.
“One of my favorite memories of playing in ‘The Livin’ End’ (minus Mike Simpson at the time) was the time we played for assembly at Vaiden High School when I was a Junior there,” Collins said. “The auditorium was packed. Just about time for the bell to ring, we started on ‘Groove Me’ by King Floyd. The students were standing up and cheering and, for all practical purposes, dancing. The bell rang in the middle of the song and Mr. Curtis Armstrong, the principal, made us stop so the students could go back to class. When they got halfway out of the auditorium, Van Simpson told us to crank it up again. All of the students came back into the auditorium! Mr. Armstrong made Van, Jack and Kenny unplug their amps.”
Collins said to top it all off, since Vaiden started having its Spring Musical Program – and after all those years – he had the opportunity to play drums again on the same stage as the “Groove Me” incident.
“The bell didn’t ring,” Collins said. “Nothing could be better!”
For more information about the history of Vaiden and to see the history “wish list,” go to http://www.vaiden.net.