Post Office Photos by Zilla Spencer
Vardaman Needed a Post Office
As the number of people and businesses in the settlement began to increase, the need for postal service grew and an application was made to the Post Office Department to establish a post office and to give it the name that was proposed for the growing settlement: Vardaman. The name was that of James K. Vardaman, who had spoken at a large political rally at nearby Hollis Bridge a couple of years earlier and who had now been elected governor.
Governor Vardaman, as discussed elsewhere
on this site, had made a bitter enemy of President Theodore Roosevelt. At the direction of the Postmaster General, Henry Clay Payne, the application for a post office was approved, but the name of ‘Vardaman’ for the post office was disapproved. The name ‘Timberville’ was submitted instead, and that was approved. After Roosevelt left office, the name of the post office at Vardaman was finally changed to ‘Vardaman’ on August 27, 1912.
Between 1904 when the post office was established and 1912 when the name of it was changed from Timberville to Vardaman, the people and merchants had the awkward problem that the post office and the town had different names. The usual way of handling this was to show the address as 'Vardaman, Miss.' and then include the post office name in smaller type as shown on this 1910 check drawn on the Vardaman Home Bank.
According to Broox Sledge of Macon, Mississippi, who compiled a Postal History of Calhoun County, 1852-1929, for the Calhoun County Monitor-Herald
*, the post office at Vardaman, under the name of Timberville, was established August 1904. The first postmaster was Thomas E. Walton who served in that position from August 6, 1904 to January 15, 1915.
* Reprinted in the CCH&GS Newsletter for the fourth quarter, 2003
According to Sledge, Andrew Victor Lamar was the second postmaster, serving from January 15, 1915, and was presumably still postmaster there in 1929 when the record that Sledge was using ended.
Essie Whitehorn Cochran, in an undated letter, listed the postmasters serving the post office at Vardaman as:
- Thomas E. Walton
- Victor Lamar
- J.E. Kimbrough
- Doyle Hawkins
- J.E. Morgan
- Bobbie Gene Gable
- Wilton Griffin
- Daphna Naron Cook
Thomas E. Walton, the first postmaster, had a store and the first post office was most likely in that store. In an interview in later years, Mrs. Cochran said that Mr. Walton's store and the post office were on the east side of the street downtown next to the Richards store. She said that it later moved across to the west side of the street. In the '30s and '40s it was located in a brick building which, at the time, was on the north end of that block of stores. Mr. Julian Morgan was the postmaster. (In 2012 that building was still there and was being used as a dance studio.)
Just after WWII a concrete block building was built just north of the post office on the same side of the street. There was a very narrow gap separating it from the post office building. The area in the south end of that new building was, for a short time, a small restaurant; but in the late 1940s or early 1950s the post office moved into it. That building was also still there in 2012 and is called by those who remember the post office being there as the "old" post office.
The "Old" Post Office
The "New" Post Office
The current post office building was dedicated in 1962 when Mr. Wilton Griffin was the postmaster. The dedication service was held in the high school gym with due ceremony. The Vardaman High School Band provided the music and Congressman Abernathy provided appropriate remarks. Prayers were given by the pastors of several of the local churches served by the post office and an open house at the new building followed the ceremony.
Getting the Mail
Mrs. Cochran said that after the post office was established, the mail was brought to Vardaman by postmaster Thomas E. Walton on horseback. However, with the availability of rail service, an application was made for permission to use that capability. Later, after rail service was no longer available, trucks and cars were used to bring the mail. People competed for the contracts to carry the mail and a regular route was set up between Houston and Grenada for this purpose. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, pickup trucks with homemade covered beds were used for this purpose and even offered limited passenger service along with the mail. The fare from Vardaman to Calhoun City was 25 cents.
In the beginning there were few, if any, post office boxes available and most people living in town used general delivery. When official post office boxes became available, they were primarily used by businesses with a few private individuals taking advantage of them. Later on, as the post office added more of them, more people rented them since they provided a means to get their mail on any day at any time (as long as it was in the box.)
Several rural routes were set up to deliver mail to those outside the town and the rural carriers became as well known to the people on their routes as their own family. Mr. Dewitt Spencer remembers the carriers who served his family:
|"The long-time mail carrier during my youth on Rt. 2 north of Vardaman was Mr. Reuben Edmondson, son of J.D. Edmondson who was also a long-time carrier. (Mr. J.D. was also Dr. Sherman Edmondson's father.) Seems like Mr. Reuben was succeeded by Owen Inman who was succeeded by former mayor Lloyd Smith and then Junior Bailey and now the current Barbara Bailey.|
I loved everything about rural free delivery; so many wonderful things came to us in this way or we hoped they would and were sometimes disappointed but the anticipation and going to the box were delicious. We ordered a lot of things, memorial shoes and clothes, Sky King spy ring, jewels redeemed by box tops, weekly Monitor-Heralds, and letters. How vividly I remember [my] brother Dwight leaving the potato beds there past our woodlot when he heard the mail carrier approach because he anticipated a daily letter from [his girlfriend] and was rarely disappointed as I recall. No, I don’t ever remember stealing one of those and reading it tho I did lots of other things that bad and worse.
I married and we moved to town where we got our mail in a post office box. I loved this too and it seemed more sophisticated. If you forgot your box combination the postmaster would gladly retrieve your mail and he never had to ask the box number. I can’t remember Uncle Julian Morgan doing that but he may have as he was there prior to Wilton Griffin.
As I mentioned, Barbara Bailey, Tom’s wife, Sunshine’s daughter-in-law, is our carrier now and she is typical of all her predecessors, helpful and courteous to a fault. I think, prior to her Junior Bailey, Tom’s brother, was the Rt. 2 carrier before he was moved to Pittsboro."
Baby Chicks and Sears & Roebuck Catalogs
The postal service was the primary means of communicating for most of the people in the Vardaman area for many decades. There were small, scattered telephone setups throughout the area, but the key method of keeping in touch with family and friends was by mail, and the weekly arrival of the Monitor-Herald
, and the monthly arrivals of the Progressive Farmer
and Baptist Record
were eagerly anticipated.
For many people, the ability to order almost anything from companies such as Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward was a necessity and a blessing. Catalogs from those companies were the prized possessions of those who received them and were the dread of the rural carriers when the new catalogs came out because of their weight. Knowing that many households would have both his catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog, Richard Sears purposefully designed his catalog a little shorter and narrower than the Ward catalog. He knew that when the housewife was tidying up the home, the Sears catalog, being smaller, would be stacked on top of the Wards catalog. (Source: Mr. Sears Catalog, The American Experience, 1991 VHS.)
At its peak in 1915, the general merchandise catalog contained 100,000 items in 1200 pages and weighed four pounds. In 1896, annual sales were $1.2 million and by 1914 they hit $101 million. (The Good Old Days; A History of American Morals and Manners as Seen Through the Sears Roebuck Catalogs.)
Seed and plant catalogs were also a delight and were very much needed for a time when a significant part of the family's diet was grown in the family garden and on the family fruit trees. Medicines, toys, clothes, farm equipment, tools, nails, screws, kitchen gear, tombstones, even complete pre-fabricated houses could be ordered. Of course some of the larger items that were ordered would have to be picked up at the train depot; or, later, delivered by truck, but it was wonderful to be able to get them at all.
In the 1930s, Sears sold live baby chicks through their mail order catalogs. The chicks cost ten cents each; and safe, live delivery was promised. Live baby chicks were also sold by other mail-order companies. At one time, Vardaman had a hatchery and people could buy their baby chicks there. Later, people had to either hatch their own or use the mail order services and at certain times of the year the Vardaman post office would be crowded with them and filled with their distinctive smell and sounds.
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