The first school in Vardaman was organized in 1904 by Professor Edgar Powell. By 1905, according to Mrs. Essie Cochran’s notes and Mr. Roscoe McCord's interview in "The Way I Heard It, A History of Calhoun County", the school was located in a frame two-story school building on the hill in the north of town.
The first brick school building was erected on this hill in 1911 at a cost of $5,000. This building housed all of the grades, although classes for some of the primary children were held in downtown Vardaman in a building between John Walton’s auto dealership and the hardware store. Mrs. Mae Crawford Chandler, who was five years old in 1914, remembered being schooled there and boarding with the teacher Mrs. Clara Young Crawford who was her aunt.
The light-colored rectangle underneath the window on the right at the front of the building in this photo is a ceremonial masonry stone indicating the names of the architect, builder, and other significant individuals. When the building was demolished in the early 1950s, the stone was saved. For many years, Mrs. Frances Blue Cox (daughter of D.D. Blue who is listed on the stone) kept it in the front yard of her house on highway 8 just west of downtown Vardaman. When this photo was made in 2013, the stone was lying on the south side of the city hall at the back.
The ceremonial stone was on top of a separate stone which has the date that the building was erected. This stone is currently at the home of a former VHS student who plans to reunite it with the other stone when a Vardaman Museum is eventually built.
A look at the first year or so in the new school building is provided in a flyer that the school prepared for 1912-1913.
Town Officers: E. I. Hawkins, Mayor; A.M. Berry, Marshall, J.D. Walton, Treasurer
Board of Aldermen: J.E. Whitehorn, Auditor & Clerk; W.P. Vanhorn, R.G. Young, G.M. Herring, ; H.P. Embry
Board of Trustees: J.E. Whitehorn, S.V. Christian, J.D. Walton, S.H. Parker, S.F. Dye
Prof. Herman (Cub) Holland, Principal
Miss Lucy Street, Grammar School Dept.
Miss Lillian Stevenson McCord, Intermediate Dept.
Miss Denise Norris, Primary Dept.
Miss Ethel Mancil, Music Teacher
The town of Vardaman was founded in 1904. It was during this year that the first school was organized in the town. First school being organized by Prof. Powell who now resides at Pittsboro as a practicing physician. In 1905 the town was incorporated as a village and later as a town.
The town is located on the Okolona branch of the M & O Railroad about half way between Houston and Calhoun City. It is situated in the southeast corner of Calhoun County between Bull Creek on the east; Cane Creek, Dry Creek, and Meridian Creek on the west; and Yalobusha on the south. The town is surrounded by good farm land and the health of the town is extra good and is claimed by doctors to be the best of any town of the same age and size. Only a few cases of typhoid fever have been recorded since Vardaman was founded.
We have in Vardaman a good brick modern equipped school house. We have two good comfortable churches, both of which are independent and self-sustaining, representing the Methodist and Baptist denominations. There are fourteen stores including 2 drug stores, 1 hardware store, 1 grain store, 2 banks, 1 livery stable, 1 modern equipped blacksmith shop, 1 barber shop, 2 modern gins, 1 sawmill, 1 brick factory, 1 hotel, 2 dentists, 1 optometrist, and 2 practicing physicians.
Athletic sports are encouraged as far as is consistent with effective school work. We will have basketball for girls, football, and baseball or basketball for boys. Besides these games, students are encouraged to play such other games as will not interfere with their regular school work. All athletic sports are under the supervision of the faculty at all times. Our home boys have a beautiful baseball park and never allow anything but a good clean game played.
The school property consists of a large two story brick building which is the only brick school building in this county. It contains four large recitation rooms, one music room and auditorium, all equipped with modern automatic single desk and apparatus with cloak room adjoining. We have ample grounds for a campus upon which all kinds of physical exercise may be taken.
During the past year we reorganized our library and purchased a handsome bookcase and added 100 excellent books to our library. Great stress will be placed on the library work and the very best reference work and supplementary reading will be furnished the students.
During the past year we organized two literary societies for the boys and girls of our school. It is the purpose of these societies to train boys and girls not only to think clearly, but to train them to express their thoughts in clear language and to deliver them to the public with force and power. Each of these Literary societies meets once a week for debates, reading, declamations, the study of literature, and a study of parliamentary law.
As Vardaman continued to grow and the number of school-age children increased, more room was needed. In 1924 a brick annex was added to the rear of this first brick building at a cost of $8,000. The bricks for this addition were shipped in on the train. Wilson "Bill" Blue, long-time Supervisor of District 5 and son of the D. D. "Dee" Blue who is listed on the ceremonial stone, said that his father got the contract for unloading the bricks from the rail cars onto mule-drawn wagons, hauling them up to the school, and unloading them in strategically-placed piles. Since the bricks had to be individually handled, it took several days to accomplish this.
A wooden gym was located to the rear of the annex. This must have been the gym built in the late 1930s by the National Youth Administration (NYA) and mentioned by Herman K. Smith below. Elevated seats were on either side of the basketball court and dressing rooms were squeezed under the seats.
Outside toilets were provided, one for the boys in the edge of the woods to the north of the school and one for the girls in the edge of the woods to the northeast of the school. A house just east of the school (later occupied by the Stillman family) was used temporarily for some primary classes in the late 1930s.
Early Consolidations and Transportation
Students from south of the Yalobusha River apparently attended the Vardaman school from the early days. As late as World War II, however, some schools to the west and north were still in operation. In James Edward Clark's outstanding compilation of historical reference material from east Calhoun County*, a listing with a hand-written label "School in 1945" shows that the consolidated schools in the county included Vardaman, Cherry Hill, New Liberty, and Reed [sic]. One-teacher schools in the area included Pine Ridge and Gillespie; and two-teacher schools included Center Point and Rocky Mount. The Loyd School was not listed in any category and was presumably already consolidated with Vardaman.
Transportation of the children to school in the earlier days was primitive with home-made school "buses" being used. With most of the roads unpaved and many with little if any gravel on them, getting to school during periods of heavy rain was iffy at best. Some children who attended school at Vardaman had relatives in town and were temporarily boarded with them when the roads got really bad. Some of the Bailey children from Loyd, for example, stayed with their Anglin relatives. The parents of some of the older students from more distant areas even rented rooms in town for them and came and got them on the weekends.
"Town" children, of course, walked; and the excellent sidewalks
in the town made this relatively easy.
*[TICK-A-BEND then TIMBERVILLE then VARDAMAN and East Calhoun County, Mississippi,
Compiled by James Edward Clark, P.O. Box 427, Houston, MS 38851, 2007 Updated 2008]
New High School Building on the Highway
As the town continued to grow, a new high school building was built in 1940 east of downtown Vardaman just north of highway 8. This building was constructed by the National Youth Administration (NYA), one of the New Deal agencies at a cost of $19,000.
The NYA focused on providing work and education for young men between the ages of 16 and 25.
One of those young men was Herman K. Smith who was born in Calhoun County in 1922. His family grew sweet potatoes in the spring, hauled hay in the summer, and cut timber in the winter. He said, "We did pretty good until the Depression hit. I ended up getting a job with the NYA and helped build the gym in Vardaman and sodded the Highway 8 right-of-way." Smith was drafted soon afterwards, survived bloody fighting in Europe, came home, went to college, and became a dentist in Houston.
A small brick building was constructed to the west of the new high school where classes in agriculture and other vocational classes were held. An existing building to the east of the new school had been constructed by the WPA during the depression as a cannery. It had the equipment required for professionally canning various foods. (The idea was that local folks would bring in their vegetables and meats suitable for canning and use the industrial-grade equipment there to can them -- in real cans just like those in the stores.) This building later was used as a football dressing room and then for special education classes.
A wooden gymnasium was later built and was located to the east of the high school building.
The auditorium was in the center of the high school building, and wings of the building extended east and west. According to a later newspaper account, the building included 12 classrooms, a home economics department, and a library. The home economics department was in the east wing on the north east end with the science room directly across the hall from it. The library extended southward from the end of the west wing and other class rooms completed the layout. As mentioned above, the agriculture/vocational department was located in a separate small building.
The area east of the school was thickly covered with young pine trees and bushes and was soon intertwined with trails made by the younger students during the recess and lunch periods.
Continued Use of the
School Building on the Hill
When the new school building on the highway was completed, the students in grades 7 through 12 attended there while grades 1 through 6 continued to use the old building on the hill.
As you entered the old building through the front door, there were stairs on the left and the right. Both stairs led to a second floor landing which had a door to a large room occupying the entire width of the building. This had originally been used for classes but was converted into a lunch room. The kitchen was to the back right. A room on the back left was used as a music room for Mrs. Marvin See's 'rhythm band' and for her piano lessons. A door in the back center of the lunch room led to a landing and stairs on the left and right led down to the first floor. The rooms to the rear of the second floor landing were no longer used and contained miscellaneous junk left from the previous use. What had been a small auditorium with a small stage was on the left (west) side and several of what had been classrooms were on the right and to the rear.
On the first floor, past the two stairs at the front, the first grade was on the left (west) and the fourth grade was on the right. The first grade room had a large cloakroom which extended the width of the room. Past these two rooms was an east-west hall with the stairs up to the second floor landing. This hall marked where the 1924 addition joined the original 1911 building. Past the east-west hall, the second grade was on the left (west) and the fifth grade was on the right. Further on down, the third grade was on the left and the sixth grade was on the right.
The 1924 addition created two additional doors to the first floor, the east and west ends of the hall.
Growth of the Campus on the Highway
The brick building on the hill continued to be used until 1949 when a new elementary school building was completed near the new high school building on the highway and grades 1 through 5 were housed in it. Classes for grades 6 through 12 were held in the high school building.
The old school building on the hill was demolished in the early 1950s and the bricks were sold to the First Baptist Church in Calhoun City to be used for building an educational annex to their church. The wooden gym was, according to Charles Van Horn, cut in half and the halves taken to Bruce where they were reassembled and used as a skating rink.
At some time after the bricks and other debris were removed, the owner of the property dug up and hauled away a significant amount of the red clay dirt that had been underneath the school and gym. The site is now several feet lower than it was before and shows no evidence of the forty or so years of educational sweat and tears that were shed there.
This aerial view of the site of the school on the hill shows the triangular-shaped area where the school and gym used to be.
On February 24, 1958, the Vardaman High School building was razed by fire. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal:
“Vardaman High School and all of its equipment were destroyed by fire of undetermined origin about 2 a.m. at an estimated loss of about $200,000. The school had about $20,000 insurance, it was reported. Assistant Town Marshall E. W. Hendrix reported that children in the elementary school nearby will be moved to the Baptist Church wile high school students will move into the elementary school.
School Supt. B. F. Box reported ‘we saved nothing’.
The school had 12 classrooms, a home Ec Department, library, and two pianos. All football and basketball equipment were also destroyed. The city’s volunteer fire department was unable to cope with the flames and the Calhoun City fire department was called in for help.”
(Photos courtesy of Charley Davis)
The present high school building was erected in 1959.
Like all the other schools in the county, the Vardaman School was racially segregated from the beginning. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, began the process that was to see it integrated.
After various lawsuits, the United States District Court, Northern District of Mississippi, issued an order on August 9, 1968 which instructed the Calhoun County Board of Education to begin the transition from a dual ("Separate but Equal") to a unitary school system. In addition to establishing a timetable for desegregating each grade, the court's order set out guidelines to be used by the school board in making faculty employment decisions during the transition period and thereafter. The timetable called for full desegregation of the school system by the 1970-71 school year.
By this order, "pupils in the first three grades were assigned to county schools in accordance with geographic zones for the 1968-69 school year, and pupils in grades 4, 5, and 6 were so assigned the next school year, 1969-70, coincident with desegregation of the upper six grades subsequently ordered."
In 1970, as this newspaper clipping relates, the final class graduated from South Calhoun High School, and desegregation was in effect for the 1970-1971 session.
Starting in about 1980 the racial makeup of the Vardaman schools began to change. As can be seen in these two charts, the percentage of African-American students slowly declined during the period beginning in 1990 while that of Hispanic students increased. This reflected the increasing number of Hispanic workers coming to Vardaman to work in the sweet potato and associated industries and services.
The percentage of white students remained relatively constant in the elementary school during this period while decreasing somewhat in more recent years in the high school. For 2013, the racial makeup of the elementary school was: white, 50.2%; Hispanic, 36.8%; and African-American, 12.4%. The makeup of the high school for 2013 was: white, 49.6%; African-American, 28.8%; and Hispanic, 21.2%.
Mr. Guy Gulledge was elected Calhoun County Superintendent of Education in 1939. In later years he remembered that "There were 30 white schools and thirty-four colored schools and we began to cut them down as much as we could." The reduction in number was necessary primarily to obtain state financial aid but also to reduce the county cost for education. He was defeated for re-election in 1959, mainly, he said, because of widespread opposition to reorganization and consolidation. In an interview in "The Way I Heard It", he said that "People were reluctant to give up their schools because they said that when you kill the school, you kill the community and hurt the church. … I guess that had some truth in it. But most all of them were afraid to get into a bigger system because they didn’t want to pay any maintenance tax and things like that. … And back then if the school averaged five children you had to give them a teacher."
When Mr. Gulledge left office in 1959 [however, he was reelected 8 years later] he said that there were three white schools in the county, Bruce, Calhoun City, and Vardaman; and there were three colored schools in the county, high schools in Bruce and Calhoun City, and a colored elementary school in Vardaman.
Attempts were made from time to time to consolidate the county high schools and to build one county high school in Pittsboro, but these attempts were unsuccessful and often generated bad feelings as well.
Vardaman School Superintendents
Mrs. Essie Cochran, a Vardaman pioneer and historian, listed them as:
1905 - 1984
Edgar Powell, J.J. Hillis, Bowen Brantley Crump, Cub Holland, J. Winters, J.S.W. Hodge, F. Sanderson. C.B. Sisler, D.D. Hawkins, Jack Frost. A.E. Ferguson, Ben Stallings, Guy Ferrell, T.A. "Tommie" Waits, Oscar Hardin, B.F. Box, Watt Carter, James E. Nichols, George Thomas, J.P. Burt, Fred Wilson (1975-79), and Thomas Suggs
On February 12, 2002, the Vardaman Elementary School was destroyed by fire.
This was described in a February 20, 2002 article by Ashley Elkins in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
Vardaman’s vigilance to make sure elementary school gets back on track with minimum of chaos
Firefighters, teachers and others stayed on the campus all night battling the blaze, but were unable to save the more than 60-year-old facility. The state fire marshal said the fire was started by a faulty heater in the hallway.
In the following days, people continued to provide assistance by setting up makeshift classrooms and donating money and supplies.
“Everything is going outstanding today,” principal Wade Burt said. “We found enough space and it’s been real orderly. We’re a little bit displaced today but it has gone as smooth as possible.”
Students were dismissed from school Feb. 13 through Feb. 18 while teachers, administrators and parents joined forces to set up makeshift classrooms for more than 300 kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
Volunteers spent several days converting a building that once served as a band hall and field house for the football team into a reading room for fifth- and sixth-graders, complete with a fresh coat of paint and curtains made by parents.
English students in fifth- and sixth-grade set up desks among a dishwasher, sinks and a washer and dryer in the old high school home economics classroom. Those in first- through fourth-grades combined three sections into one and three teachers for each grade took turns teaching in a building that normally serves high school tech prep and kindergarten students.
“I stood outside my room and watched it burn,” said sixth-grade English instructor Patsy Easley, who has taught at the school 35 years, as she gave students an example of a personal narrative about the experience during a writing assignment. Easley asked students to write about their experiences with the fire in new journals donated by Quartet General Binding Co., in Booneville.
Donations from businesses, individuals and surrounding schools have poured in as news of the fire spread.
Neighboring Northeast Mississippi schools have reached out to Vardaman, with Tishomingo County and Houston donating desks and tables, and others, such as Houlka and Bruce, offering books and supplies.
Still, much has not been replaced and some items are irreplaceable. “We had a huge library and complete computer lab,” administrative assistant Jeannie Winter said. “We lost everything, and the teachers lost so many personal items.”
“I went to school there; there are a lot of memories in that school,” said first-grade teacher Nicole Landreth, as her voice cracked and tears filled her eyes. “But it’s been a blessing to see how everyone has worked together. The teachers especially have worked hard.”
“I miss the togetherness,” said third- and fourth-grade math instructor Gloria Lloyd, who has taught at the school for 32 years. “There’s no more walking down the hall and being with everybody.”
With plans to rebuild, thanks to a good insurance policy that even covers replacing shrubs, hope for a brighter future with a new school is strong in Vardaman.
“I went to school in that building for six years, plus taught there for 32, but I guess I will start a new era in a new building,” Lloyd said.
After the debris was removed, the school was rebuilt on the same site.
Vardaman School Now
The Vardaman School campus now sprawls over the area that once held only a few buildings, many trees, and a few playground items. In a sad commentary on the safety precautions needed in modern times, the elementary school part of the campus resembles a medium security prison more than it does a school. Various auxiliary buildings are attached with covered walkways and chain link fences.
The high school building across the circle with attached gymnasium/auditorium is plain. Almost all of the buildings on the campus appear to have been built for functionality with little care for appearance. The main elementary school building is identified with a sign, and there are a couple of other signs saying 'Vardaman Elementary School'. The high school building has no signage to identify it as such and one can get the impression that the entire area is an elementary school.
The agriculture/vocational building that was constructed at the time the brick high school was built in 1940 is still here, but now being used for storage. It has been added to on the west side and has had doorways and window openings modified.
The old cannery building which predates the first high school on this site is still there. However, the concrete block walls have been covered with white siding as have two other adjacent buildings and doorways and windows have been modified over the years. It is probably the rearmost white building in this photo.
Vardaman School Teachers
The Vardaman Schools have had many excellent teachers since it was organized in 1904.
The following listing is by no means complete and additional names are welcomed.
Edgar Powell, Superintendent
J.J. Hillis, Superintendent
Bowen Brantley Crump, Superintendent
Cub Holland, Superintendent
J. Winters, Superintendent
J.S.W. Hodge, Superintendent
F. Sanderson, Superintendent
C.B. Sisler, Superintendent
D.D. Hawkins, Superintendent
Jack Frost, Superintendent
A.E. Ferguson, Superintendent
Ben Stallings, Superintendent
Guy Ferrell, Superintendent
T.A. "Tommie" Waits, Superintendent
Oscar Hardin, Superintendent
B.F. Box, Superintendent
Watt Carter, Superintendent, Agriculture
James E. Nichols, Superintendent
George Thomas, Superintendent
J.P. Burt, Superintendent
Fred Wilson (1975-79), Superintendent
Thomas Suggs, Superintendent
Prof. Herman (Cub) Holland, Principal, 1912
Miss Lucy Street, Grammar School Dept., 1912
Miss Lillian Stevenson McCord, Intermediate Dept., 1912
Miss Denise Norris, Primary Dept., 1912
Miss Ethel Mancil, Music Teacher, 1912
Miss Clara Christian, 5th grade
Miss Opha Sanderson, 1st grade, 1944
Mrs. Rabon Spratlin, 2nd grade, 1945
Mrs. Robbie Burt, 3rd grade, 1946
Mrs. Blue, 4th grade, 1947
Mr. Horace Flake, 6th grade, 1949
Mrs. Lilly Pearl Flake, English, 1949
Miss Martha Swain, 7th grade, 1950
Mrs. Batsy Adams, Home Economics, 3rd grade 1962
Mrs. Wyatt, 2nd grade, 1960
Mrs. Lillye Winter, Piano, Music, 1960-63
Mrs. Virgie Blue, 4th grade, 1963
Mrs. Zilla Morgan Spencer,
Vardaman School Photographs
Entire Vardaman School, 1912
Vardaman School, Second Grade 1921
VHS Class of 24
VHS Class Roll 1926
VHS Class Roll 1927
Class of 1927, Rubye Williams' Invitation
VHS Class of 1939 Reunion
VHS Class of 1936
VHS Class of 42
VHS Class of 1942 Reunion
VHS Class of 45
Vardaman School, 7th Grade 50-51
VHS building as shown on 1956 Invitation
The Light of 1957 was dedicated to Horace and Lilly Pearl Flake
Some Members of the Class of 59 on the Football Field
The Light of 1959 was dedicated to Roscoe McCord
Vardaman School Reunion Program 2008
Memorial Stone for First Brick School
Vardaman School First Brick Building
Early VHS Teachers: Spratlin, Davidson, and Sisler
East End of the old High School
J.E. "Dude" Carter and Class
J. E. "Dude" Carter
Vardaman High School Sports Photographs
VHS District Champions 37-38 #1, football
VHS District Champions 37-38 #2, football
VHS 1945 football team 1945
VHS 1945 football team with names
VHS 1944-45 football team and cheerleaders
Vardaman Wins State, Girls' Basketball, 1959