Vardy School Community Historic District and Mahala Mullins Cabin | Tennessee Vacation

Vardy School Community Historic District and Mahala Mullins Cabin

Blackwater Road
Sneedville, TN 37869

The Vardy Community, established in 1892, is at the foot of Newman’s Ridge. The district was named after Vardemon Collins, one of the first recorded Melungeon inhabitants, and was first settled around 1780.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dozens of settlement and mission schools were established across rural Appalachia, including a historic school at Vardy. Over the next 45 years, the school anchored a small community, now a historic district, which includes two schools, a church, general store, library, town building and two homes.

In the Vardy community, one of the most famous people of Melungeon heritage was Mahala Mullins, a widow who openly sold moonshine from a log home (relocated from Newman’s Ridge in 2000 to the Vardy Historic District) to support her family (including 18 children). “Big Haley” weighed upwards of 500 pounds, and when repeatedly confronted with arrest warrants, cheerfully invited lawmen to arrest her, knowing that her size made it impossible to extract her from her cabin or transport her down the mountain. One deputy reported her to be “catchable but not fetchable.”

The Vardy School, completed in 1929 and in operation until the 1970s, was a mission school that offered educational opportunities to members of one of America’s least-known ethnic groups: the Melungeons.

Writer Libby Killebrew describes Vardy as “a model community, whose
citizens learned strong values from close-knit families, and good skills from a fine school.” Those citizens, Killebrew writes, have been “maligned in the past by journalists exploiting Appalachian stereotypes and myths, and the legend of the ‘mysterious’ Melungeons. Contrary to popular myths, Vardy was actually one of the most progressive communities in our region. [On] average, children graduating from Vardy were ahead of their peers academically.”

The Vardy School Community was the first site in Hancock County to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


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