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Caledonia Day expects to draw crowd of 10,000

 

Carmen K. Sisson

 

The streets of Caledonia were quiet this morning, but that will change tonight, when the town kicks off its ninth annual Caledonia Day festival with a concert and fireworks show.  

 

Hometown girl Kelsey Collins will take the stage at Ola J. Pickett Park around 6 o'clock, serving as the headliner act for Big Ben Atkins and Cole Cole Heart, which will begin playing at 7. There will be entertainment by Midsouth Fireworks during the band's break.  

 

This is the second year the festival has had Friday night events, which organizers say worked well last year and drew crowds. But Saturday is the main attraction, with events beginning tomorrow at 8 a.m. Festival-goers can choose from a number of activities, including lawnmower races, a pet parade, a bow shoot, a 5K fun run and a motorcycle "dice run."  

 

There will also be live music Saturday afternoon, as well as antique cars and tractors on display and a special children's area.  

 

Town Alderman Bill Darnell said the festival continues to grow, with 149 vendor spots filled this year, and he thinks they will top 10,000 attendees this weekend.  

 

The budget has also grown -- nearly four times what it was in 2004, when Caledonia Day began as a simple centennial celebration. This year, the town contributed $12,000 to the festivities, and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau gave an additional $8,000.  

 

The town itself has changed, too, but it has retained its deep family connections and laid-back, small-town atmosphere.  

 

Caledonia was settled in 1817 and chartered in 1904, but its growth was somewhat inhibited by nearby Columbus, which benefited from the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the railroad.  

 

Like most small towns, Caledonia has its share of colorful characters and local legends, including the first -- and only -- female mayor, Mollie Groves.  

 

Elected in 1940 while most of the country's men were serving in World War II, Groves goes down in history for having passed some "strange ordinances," Darnell said.  

 

Under her reign, a man could sleep on the sidewalk without fear of being arrested, but if he beat his horse on Main Street, he was fined $5. She also passed the town's first beer ordinance. 

 

Her tenure lasted until 1944.  

 

"The guys came back from World War II, and they elected a man," Darnell said, laughing.  

 

As a native of Caledonia, Darnell holds a treasure trove of memories, many surrounding a large gazebo which used to be in the center of town, where the stoplight is now located on Main Street.  

 

It was three times as big as the gazebo the town now has, Darnell said, and it was the gathering place for people young and old.  

 

Of course, it, too, is the stuff of which legends are made. Like the time a man got drunk (thanks to Groves' beer ordinance), climbed on the roof, yelled he could fly and jumped off -- breaking his arm.  

 

Darnell speaks fondly of the town's first football team, which his father coached. The team members held their 50th reunion in Caledonia in 2007.  

 

If you go, expect to see a lot of impromptu reunions, Darnell said. Residents flock back to their hometown from places near and far, making the event as much a homecoming as anything.  

 

Admission is free, and food and drinks (along with a wide assortment of merchandise -- both kitschy and cool) will be available for purchase.

 

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.

 

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