The past lives in downtown Verona

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

VERONA – The owner of the newest business in downtown Verona doesn’t expect to get many walk-up customers.
“We needed a little place as a base,” said Jeff Jones, owner of City Cab. “We’ve been here about a month.”
The company has customers in Verona, as well as Tupelo. And that fits with the history of downtown Verona, where three Tupelo fixtures got their start.
“See that street?” said Julian Riley, pointing to College Avenue. “That was old Highway 45. That was the street that went from Verona to Harrisburg. After that, it was the street that went from Verona to Tupelo.”
At the corner of College Avenue (Really Old Highway 45) and Main Street sits the original home of Raymond Trice General Merchandise. The business eventually moved to Tupelo.
“They sold out to the Booth family,” said Riley, who owns the building, “so Tupelo Hardware started in the building right there in 1876.”
The store used to sit next to an alley, but the alley was given a roof and a floor and turned into a bank by Alfred Raymond, Robert Trice and Richard Clark in the late 1800s.
Riley said that bank also moved to Tupelo, where it became the Bank of Tupelo. The name changed to the Bank of Mississippi, then it became known as BancorpSouth.
“This is one of the most historic spots in Lee County,” Riley said.
But, wait, there’s more.
The bank building connected the hardware store to old Verona Town Hall, the spot where Justice of the Peace Robert Emmitt Kelly joined in holy matrimony Gladys Smith and Vernon Presley on June 17, 1933.
World history has recorded the rock ’n’ roll deeds of their son, Elvis.
Tupelo’s favorite son still has an impact on downtown Verona. His parents’ wedding has been re-enacted during the town’s Heritage Festival.
A pair from Missouri turned the hardware and bank buildings and old city hall into a restaurant and museum, but that effort ended earlier this year when the couple moved their Elvis paraphernalia to Memphis.
Riley is building a replica of the Elvis Presley birthplace not far from the Main and College intersection.
Drawing customers
One of the regular draws to downtown Verona is located behind the old hardware building, where Ms. Ruth’s Diner serves country cooking on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
It’s not unusual to find people from throughout Lee County and beyond eating at the restaurant.
Antique signs, chairs, posters and other odds and ends hang on the walls, and at least one bicycle is anchored to the ceiling.
Customers are welcome to sign their names on the wall, which has taken on an international flair with faraway Elvis fans leaving their autographs.
On the south side of Main Street sits the Raymond and Trice Antique Store, so named because the business got its start in the old hardware building.
The antiques shop required more space and was moved into a former grocery store. The business is run by Nancy Bradley and four partners.
“It’s the perfect job for five old ladies,” she said. “We each work one day a week and every fifth weekend. That way, we’re open every day.”
Most of the items on sale belong to the owners, but they also rent out space to “help pay the bills,” Bradley said.
Antique hunters will find a little bit of everything, including old books, glassware and furniture. For anyone who’s interested, there’s an antique gas stove on sale for $250.
Railroad town
Main Street also is home to the current Verona City Hall, as well as the Verona Fire Department.
Railroad tracks are just west of the fire station. Verona got its start as a railroad town in 1857, when a survey crew with GM&O Railroad chose the location and started construction.
Trains blow through town on a regular basis. There’s also a nod to the town’s railroad past with a billboard that features “The Rebel,” a GM&O train that traveled through Verona twice a day from 1938 to 1958.
Next to that is another new edition to downtown, a wooden train for kids to climb on and enjoy.
“We have a lot of mothers who bring their kids to play on the train,” Riley said. “We’ve got plans for a railroad park. We’re going to put in a walking trail. That’s something we’re working on.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com