Residents recall historic moment in Vidalia’s past

Published 11:57 pm Saturday, September 15, 2007

VIDALIA — Anna Calhoun came home from college one weekend to find her house gone.

Her brother greeted her at the ferry and guided her to the house her parents had rented.

Calhoun’s house was one of many relocated when the town of Vidalia was moved in the mid-1930s.

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The U.S. Corps of Engineers altered the flow of the river, and since the Vidalia-Natchez area was one of the narrowest points on the Mississippi River, the waters threatened the “old town” of Vidalia, resident Corrine Randazzo, said.

Randazzo, who was 8 years old at the time, researched the move for the Vidalia Garden Club’s 75th anniversary celebration Saturday.

Originally, the town of 1,500 people was to be simply flooded, she said.

“They really didn’t want to fool with Vidalia,” Randazzo said. “The federal government would have liked us to have moved to Natchez.”

But a group of Vidalia residents put up a fight, and plans were laid to relocate the town.

The whole town was to be moved a little more than a mile from where it was, she said.

The journey home

The first step was for engineers to plan out the new town and where the roads would be laid.

“When I graduated from high school, the surveyors were starting to do their work,” Calhoun said.

She was attending Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. When she came home for visits, she could see the town’s progress.

Each house had to be moved, by trucks or animals pulling them.

“They would put it on big rollers and pulled it,” Calhoun said. “It would take a full day because others were moving at the same time, too.”

Those houses that weren’t stable enough to be moved were torn down, Randazzo said.

Newspaper accounts of the time tell of residents riding their houses to their new locations, shouting and waiving at friends, she said.

“When the drug store moved, they served ice cream to kids along the way because it was melting,” she said.

A brand new home

It was a little disorienting to come home to a new town, Calhoun said.

“It was real strange with the whole town gone,” she said. “There were no trees. In the old town, we had lots of trees.

“My grandmother just hated it. There were no trees, and it was dusty. She used to say, ‘This terrible place,’” Calhoun said, smiling.

There was only one tree in “new town,” she said. A man had his house next to a spreading tree.

“Every afternoon, the whole neighborhood would gather under it and visit,” Calhoun said. “It was the only place to go when it was hot.”

But those friendly faces weren’t always the same ones.

“Some of the neighbors who had been together in the old town were kind of scattered,” Calhoun said.

Trees weren’t the only things missing in the new town. So were the cows.

“In the old town, there were no stock laws, so you had to put up fences to keep the cows out of your yard,” Calhoun said. “In the new town, we didn’t have to have any fences.”

Adding to the new town’s open feeling was more open space. Residents bought more land at their new locations, so houses were further apart.

At the time, that meant more mud, Randazzo said.

“The garden club was concerned about the yards, how the new town would look,” Randazzo said. “They asked everybody to put their yards in shape. There was a while there where it rained a lot and was pretty muddy. They had to put wooden boards down for people to get to their houses.”

Back home again

After graduating from LSU, Calhoun worked in Baton Rouge for a few years and then returned home.

She lived in the relocated house, now on Magnolia Street, until two years ago.

Now, her niece lives in the house, she said.

Like so many of the houses, had it not been moved, it would be underwater.