Vardaman History Project - Water

Where's the Water?

Hand-dug wells and cisterns were the first sources of water in the town. Those houses and stores which didn't have wells or cisterns of their own had to haul water for their needs. Cisterns, usually holes in the ground lined with something such as a thin layer of concrete to make them watertight, were practical in Vardaman most of the time because of the amount of rainfall. Hand-dug wells could only be as deep as slightly below the water table.

The need for good wells was obvious, but apparently it was not so easy to locate a good place to drill. One attempt was made next to the Baptist church building and; according to Essie Whitehorn Cochran, was not successful. The Craig Bros. had built a cotton gin south of the railroad; and, again according to Mrs. Cochran, "went broke drilling for water." However, the town didn't give up.

First Successful Drilled Town Well

In 1913 The Reeder Brothers from Okolona were hired to drill a town well. The selected location was the middle of the wide downtown main street next to a shallow dug well which was used to water horses and mules. This attempt was successful as shown in this photograph commemorating the successful completion of the well.

Water Well - 1913
1913 Well Picture provided by Charles Van Horn

The sign on the well reads: PUBLIC WELL, Vardaman, Miss., Drilled by Reeder Bros., Depth 1170 Feet, Okolona, Miss.

William P. (Bill) Van Horn is one of those pictured, and Charles Graham Van Horn, his grandson, described this picture:

"If you look closely, you can see people on the sidewalk in front of the stores on the east side of the street. One of the boys, but I canít remember which, is Johnnie Van Horn, my father."

"Levi Ferguson is sitting on the water wagon which brought water to the well drillers to use in the drilling operation.

"My daddy told me that all of the town officials are in this picture, probably the group of men on the right, and that each of them received a copy of this picture."

"The hand pump on the right side of the picture was used to pump water from a previously dug shallow well. When you pumped the handle, water would run into a trough behind the well for mules and horses to drink from."

First Water Tank

After the well was completed, the town built a small elevated tank which can be seen in this picture looking southeast across from the Dixie Service Station on the west side of the street.

This was good water and some men, including Julian Morgan, began to haul water from here to supply their own homes and to supply others who were willing to pay for this service.

The Original Water System

By the early 1920s the need (and desire) for a town water system prompted town officials to begin planning for a large elevated water tank and a system of pipes to supply "town water" to most of the residents. Actual construction of the system began in 1926 or 1927. Water Tank 2Trenches for laying the required pipes were dug and the Chicago Bridge & Iron Works from Chicago was hired to construct the elevated tank. Young men and teen-age boys were among those hired to work on trenching, laying the pipes, and other related jobs. Another well was drilled a few hundred yards southeast of the 1913 well to supply the system.

The water tank was erected in 1928, and the entire system was completed soon afterwards.Boys on Water Tank The water was usually delivered to one hydrant at each occupied property and it was the responsibility of the owner to extend that further into the property or building. In many cases that didn't happen for years because the impact of the Great Depression of the 1930's was beginning to be felt in Vardaman. However, having running water within easy reach of the house or store was a blessing. Fire hydrants were not included in the system and Vardaman did not have a volunteer fire department or fire truck.

The water tank, as the tallest man-made object in Vardaman, provided an icon and a source of pride for the town; and excitement (although frowned on and discouraged) for generations of boys. Although some dared to climb higher up on it, most stayed at the first horizontal beam as this picture shows.

A few homes that were not served by the original system layout were able to pay for the extra piping needed and connect to the system. This proved to be too expensive for some, though, and they retained their cisterns and wells.