By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
VERONA – Verona’s come a ways since its founding 150 years ago, but this weekend, the town is looking back.
Saturday is the Verona Heritage Festival, a time for the city to come together, remember where it’s been and celebrate where it’s going.
Historian Julian Riley founded the festival after he bought a historic location in the town.
“I purchased this old building, where Verona Town Hall had been, and that’s where Vernon and Gladys Presley got married,” he said. “I thought we could have a festival around the fact that that happened here. That’s how it got started.”
That was five years ago, but the festival honors more than just that marriage.
“This year it’s more special. It’s the 150th birthday; Verona was chartered in 1860. It’s the oldest chartered town in Lee County,” Riley said.
Verona has several firsts: It had the first bank and hotel in the county. In the late 1800s, the town offered Tupelo $15,000 to move the county seat to Verona. It was also in the running to become the home of Mississippi State University, Riley said. Many of the firsts and major accomplishments for the city were later moved to Tupelo as came into its own.
“Verona was a town of schools, churches and banks – and we still have our churches,” Riley said.
Day of celebration
The Saturday festivities kick off at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast at City Park on Mattox Road.
At 10 a.m., the festival continues with games, a dunking booth, door prizes, inflatables, antique car and tractor show, quilt show, face painting and a Civil War Camp.
A checkers tournament is also on the schedule.
At noon, 150 balloons will be released and a special 150th birthday cake will be served.
Performances by bands and singers such as the Monday Night Pickers, Dan Westmoreland and Elvis Tribute Artists Vernon Lawson and Jeff Garrett will happen throughout the day.
Ruth’s Diner will be open – but not serving food – for folks to come in and cool off. At 2:25 p.m., Riley will be there to sign copies of his book.
A pet parade steps off at 3 p.m., with prizes going to the oldest, youngest, best-dressed, funniest-dressed, biggest, best tricks and smallest pets.
Also at 3 p.m. is a reenactment of the marriage of Elvis Presley’s parents.
The night wraps up with a street dance at 6 p.m., featuring Verona Police Chief Leo Mask’s band, the County Mounties.
Riley is also putting out the call for help at the festival.
“I would encourage anyone with ties to Verona to bring their old pictures,” he said. “This is just a little town that has a lot of history.”
Check it out
What: Verona Heritage Festival, with music, food, games, pet parade, Elvis Tribute Artists, checkers tournament, book signings, reenactment of Gladys and Vernon Presley’s marriage, Civil War camp and more
Where: Downtown Verona