Hale’s Store is listed on the National Historic Register.
VINITY CORNERS – What’s in a name? When it comes to the small White County community of Vinity Corners (or Vinity Corner, as it appears on most maps), considerably more than meets the eye.
We traveled old Arkansas 367 paralleling the railroad, turning off in Garner just past Shroeder’s Catfish Paradise. Garner’s Main Street turns into the gravel road of North Vinity. Occasional huge oaks and remnants of vast bottomland hardwoods are interspersed with small, compact tracts of government-owned pine plantation. At the intersection next to Cheek Cemetery, est. 1862, a quaint wooden sign proclaims "Vinity Community" with arrows beside the names of various families. We were on a mission to speak with the Hale brothers, whose farms adjoin and whose families have lived in the area for generations.
Next to a field of emerald-green wheat stands one of the Hale homesteads. C.H. (Clarence Herschel) Hale and his son Jimmy were working on a mammoth John Deere tractor. A line of large cedars, planted by Jimmy’s grandfather and C.H.’s father, Jim K. Hale, formed a natural boundary to the place. Next to the large barnlike workshop a pear tree stood in full flower.
When asked if his family was related to that infamous Hale known for his role in the Whitewater scandal, C.H. said, "I think that must have been one of them chicken-stealin’ Hales." They are, however, descendents of Nathan ("I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country") Hale, the first American captured and executed by the British for spying during the American Revolution.
The Hales of Vinity Corners worked the lumber trade, taking huge oaks and cypress out of the bottomlands around Cypress Creek and Bayou Des Arc. They made cypress and white oak shingles by hand. The tools are still hanging on the wall of the workshop.
C.H. said his grandfather, a blacksmith, came here from Kentucky; his dad was raised down the road. Still standing in a corner of the Hale’s wheat field is a small green house that was "ordered from a Sears and Roebuck catalog and put together in 1921." C.H. pointed next door to a graying frame house with a giant cross-cut saw mounted over one door; he was born there in 1930. According to him and his elder brother, Marion Hale, who pulled up in a truck to join the conversation, the Depression was not that big a deal in Vinity Corners.
"People back then didn’t have anything anyway, so they knew how to get along," C.H. pointed out. He and Marion recalled walking to the nearby school, sometimes shedding shoes to wade through flooded lowlands. Their father drove a yoke of oxen hauling timber for Burks & Case to the two lumber mills nearby and the boys followed as soon as they were able. When Marion was 8 years old, he rode along to the woods and his dad jokingly hung him up on the side of a tree by hitching his overalls to the handle of a cross-cut saw.
"There used to be a lot of cypress and white oak," said Marion, describing trunks "four foot across. But it’s pretty much gone now." He added, "When I got big enough to go to the log woods, me and brother and Dad made $3 to $5 a day for the team. There used to be a tram road, where cars ran on wooden tracks. They hauled logs by mule, put the mules in single file and they’d walk between the tracks."
In those days, the town of Vinity Community had gone through many transformations already. Cheek’s Plantation was its pre-Civil War name – now the lake and the cemetery are the only reminders of the Cheek family. Ranes was its name and post office location from 1899 – 1907; Saye’s Chapel serve as the name for the town as well as the Methodist church that once stood at the junction marking Vinity Corners, after the family that once owned that land. From 1913-1918, it was called DesCane and had a post office under that name. The most cryptic name of all, acquired and lost along the way, reveals more about the inhabitants, perhaps, than any of the others: Defiance. "It was called Defiance for a long time," said C.H. "The Defiance post office was near Dad’s uncle’s cotton gin."
Neither of the Hale brothers could fathom the origin of either "Defiance" or "Vinity," although both had wondered over the years. Literature published by the White County Historical Society reveals nothing of the names’ origin.
Their uncle, Thomas Jefferson Hale, operated Hale’s Store (a name also used by the town for a time). Located at the epicenter of Vinity Corners across from where Saye’s Chapel once stood, it is a striking sight: a small, barn-red sheet metal building that looks as though it popped out of a Western movie set. "It’s in the National Historic Register," Laverne Hale said proudly, showing off a certificate from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The front porch, which runs the length of the store, was the perfect setting for long afternoons of picking and grinning and telling tall tales. Children launched themselves off the porch to swing from a rope tied to a nearby tree.
Laverne’s late husband, John Kenneth, another Hale brother, operated the store until it closed in the ‘50s. She produced a photograph of a smiling, white-haired man kneeling beside a doghouse. "This is a picture of my late husband," Laverne explained. "When they had to tear down Saye’s Chapel because it was sop run down, he went and built a scale model of it – for my daughter’s dog!"
A remnant of Vinity Corners still exists in Little Rock – in the form of a cute white doghouse belonging to Laverne’s daughter Rita.
Vinity Corners must have been a laid-back place to grow up and raise kids, judging from the easy-going and friendly Hales. "There’s very little meanness here," Marion said. "We used to leave doors unlocked – didn’t know what a lock was."