Exiting off the Natchez Trace at mile marker 355 in Collinwood, a large sign hangs with a warm and personal, “Welcome.” Just past this greeting on the main avenue is the Wayne County Visitors Center and Museum, a place visitors can be greeted by the pleasant smiles of volunteers, coffee and brownies and a mayor in overalls full of historical knowledge.
One special volunteer here is J.B. Hollis, 89, who grew up in Wayne County, as did his parents and grandparents. A young adult in the 1940’s, J.B. tried registering for the military, but was turned down due to a bad eye, and instead, was found in war-supporting jobs. Most notably, he worked as part of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, TN, a place so secret at the time that the state governor was unaware that Oak Ridge was even being built. Joining hundreds of workers, whose responsibilities were unknown even to themselves, it turned out they were building the atomic bomb. “Nobody knew what we were doing until they dropped the bomb,” declares Hollis.
A certificate sits on display in the main hall of the welcome center dated August 6, 1945 and reads: “US War Department, Army Service Forces Corps of Engineers – Awarded to J.B. Hollis – For his participation in work essential to the production of the Atomic Bomb, thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of WWII.”
Along with his love of the outdoors, J.B. enjoys recollections of family history and growing up in the county he admires so much. His roots go back to the Civil War where his mother’s grandfather was a Captain in the Union army and his father’s grandfather a Confederate soldier. His favorite part of volunteering at the welcome center is, “Meeting the nicest people from all over the world,” claims the good-natured resident. As I could see by the gleam in his eye, I think his favorite part is sharing his delightful stories.
Pictured: (Top Right) J.B. Hollis
(Below Top) Collinwood’s Mayor, Jasper Brewer, sits atop an old family tractor, and his wife, Terry, (Below Bottom) playing the dulcimer.
Visit www.WayneCountyChamber.org or give the Welcome Center a call at 931.724.4337.