VANNA — If you’ve ever traveled from Royston to Elberton on Ga. 17 or visited the now-closed 17 Cinema drive-in theater in Dewy Rose, you’ve passed through Vanna.
The small community in Hart County is located near three other county lines and has been around for about 200 years, making it one of North Georgia’s oldest crossroads.
Vanna is one of many crossroads communities in North Georgia that remain unincorporated, meaning there is no local government below the county level.
Traveling at highway speeds on Ga. 17, it would be easy to miss Vanna’s few structures along the highway. Vanna BBQ, open only on Friday and Saturday, and the community’s convenience store lay between a consignment yard and an appliance yard.
Peggy King Vickery formerly published the local newspaper in Hart County and grew up in the Vanna community.
“It is a community and everybody just kind of looks out for each other,” Vickery says.
When she and her brothers were growing up, Vickery says the heart of the community was Lonnie Denny’s Store, a general store that was located a block off current Ga. 17 across the single railroad track on Old Elbert Road.
The old store is still standing, but now is located on private property.
Upon closer inspection not available to the public, the building reveals much about Vanna’s history — a figurative and literal handwriting on the wall where important dates and other information were recorded and remain readable today as an almanac reflecting back to the early days of the community.
When Vickery thinks of her most fond memories of Vanna, she says what immediately comes to mind is Lonnie Denny’s store “because it had a lot of memories there. You could go in and buy 10 pieces of candy there for a penny. We used to, when I would visit my friend Alice Craft Cheek now, she lived just across the way – I’d ride the school bus home with her. Covey Dixon was the bus driver. I’ll never forget his name – and he would let us off at Lonnie Denny’s store and we could go in and get candy.”
Vickery and her brother Bobby King still remember the inside of that store.
“It had the old hardwood floors and the candy was in like a glass case,” Vickery says. “I just remember going in and getting penny logs. It was just a one-room building.”
King also remembers a wood stove in the store.
One of the oldest parts of the community is Vanna United Methodist Church, now only a year shy of its bicentennial. The core of the current sanctuary portion of the church was built in 1907.
“You were asking where does Vanna start,” Vickery says. “To me, it always kind of started with the school and the church and the store.”
The church cemetery is a microcosm of Vanna history with names like Osley, Fortson, McGarity and others dating back to the 1800s.
“Even though I didn’t live in Vanna per se, I always felt like I was part of it because of all the family connections we had,” Vickery said. “You can look out in the cemetery and so much of my family is buried there. All the names that you still see they’re there.”
Across the road from the church, adjacent to half its cemetery, is a monument to the now-gone Vanna School. A short distance behind that marker, also on private property, is the old lunchroom that was part of the old school.
Vickery’s brothers attended school there, but it had closed and classes moved closer to Hartwell by the time she came along.
King says Vanna School was the only one he’s aware of that did not have an indoor basketball court. Instead, there were two outdoor courts — one for use by the basketball team and one where children played.
Unlike many communities, a number of old buildings remain long after their intended use ended, like Lonnie Denny’s store and a portion of the old cotton gin that was first operated by Vickery’s uncle then her father.
“All the farmers around came, and this is where they ginned their cotton,” Vickery says. “At one time, my uncle Charles [Osley], who went to Vanna School, had the cotton gin. Then, due to an accident at the cotton gin, my uncle was no longer able to operate it. Then my dad took it over.”
King says their family bought the gin from Lonnie Denny, who possibly had bought it from Lawson McConnell.
Vickery says one reason the old buildings still stand throughout the community is that families in most cases simply haven't sold their property.
"They never really left, and if they did they came back home," Vickery says.
But there’s one other memory that brings a smile to Vickery’s face when she recalls it – the railroad track that still is used through town.
“We always had the train,” Vickery says. “The fun thing to do was walk on the railroad tracks, which we didn’t know it was dangerous then. We’d walk up and down that railroad track almost from Royston down to what we called the old lumber mill. We used to have a lumber mill here. I’d forgotten about that. Right after you passed the planing mill, then it became Bowman. That’s when you said you’re out of Vanna now.”
Vickery also recalls walking the railroad tracks to the area of a now-gone skating rink owned by Fletcher and Duffa Dove.
It’s easy to think you have stepped back to another time period when you get off the main highway through Vanna. In fact, you can stand in the road for 10 minutes or more and never see a vehicle.
It’s a glimpse at life during simpler times, before the hustle and bustle of busy side roads and everyday life.
Life is slower in Vanna. Standing in the churchyard a symphony of bird sounds echoes through the trees. Neighboring roosters answer each other, as songbirds and quail also exercise their lungs.
“What’s not there is there used to be a jail here,” Vickery says. “I don’t know why they had a jail in Vanna, but it was a small jail in front of the store. It’s no longer there.”
Vanna also no longer has its own ZIP Code, and now is a Royston address, but the locals help Vanna maintain its identity.
One of Vanna’s most notable sons is Georgia fiction writer Terry Kay, who was born in the small community.
It’s difficult to gauge how many people live in Vanna because the community borders are largely subjective. Since it’s a community rather than a town or city, there are no official population figures.
“Even though Vanna is in Hart County, we feel like we’re part of Elbert County, Madison County and Franklin County,” Vickery says. “You had Bowman, which is a town just down the road, and Royston is back up,” adding “you kind of got to be part of four communities and knowing everybody, which to me was lots of fun growing up – especially during school time.”
One thing is for sure. Vanna residents are protective of their community — and a little camera shy.
“Vanna still is a small community, and I think that’s what makes it so quaint and so attractive,” Vickery says. “You can listen to the birds and there’s not a lot of sound. It’s just a quietness and people are very, very close here.”