Historian and Author Tom Perry's thoughts on history and anything that comes to mind.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shovels In The Ground

When you are part of something that is successful and something you know will be here long after you are gone, it is a source of great pride. I have twice had that feeling in my life. First, twenty years ago when I led the effort to preserve the Birthplace of J. E. B. Stuart and now as construction is underway to double the size of our regional history library, the Bassett Historical Center.

With tough economic times in Henry County, Virginia, and our region it is amazing that this group raised $800,000 including a $200,000 matching grant from the Harvest Foundation. I donated all the royalties from my book Images of America: Henry County Virginia and the profit the from Henry County Heritage Book will raise $50,000 for the expansion of the library that will add over 4,000 square feet to the building.

Construction crews have started pouring footings along the Smith River in Bassett, Virginia, and “The Best Little Library in Virginia” will soon begin to have four new walls creating more workspace and a meeting room for programs. There are many collections at the library with Patrick County material including mine, O. E. Pilson, Eunice Kirkman, and Lela Adams. There is material on every county in Virginia and all the surrounding North Carolina counties.

Tom Perry presenting Phil Dalton of the Building Fund Committee of the Bassett Historical Center. The book Images of America: Henry County Virginia raised $25,000 for the expansion of our regional history library. James I. Robertson, Jr. of Virginia Tech came to raise money for the Bassett Historical Center in May 2009.

Read related stories from Martinsville Bulletin

The Bassett Historical Center has been called 'the best little library in Virginia'. The Center has grown considerably since we merged with Blue Ridge Regional Library in 1992. From that time through 2004, our patron count increased 1359% over a period of 13 years. Since 1998 we have had an increase of 125% per year. People from all 50 states and 9 foreign countries have visited the Center. Our family files now number 9496, local history files number 2518, and our books number 11,074.

The Historical Center's history is tied closely with the Bassett Branch Library. Both were a part of the early efforts made by members of the Bassett Garden Club, spearheaded by Mrs. Effie Noland in 1939, who dreamed of a Library for the community. In early years, the genealogy material was housed in a single file cabinet and one shelf. Until the flood of Labor Day, 1987, the material was kept in the Library basement. Immediately the need was realized by the Bassett Public Library Board to bring this material to the upper level, which necessitated a building addition. This addition was realized in November 1988, and housed the genealogy materials and the children's area. Genealogy was kept in the room that currently holds the American Indian and the Civil War material. In 1992, the Bassett Public Library had become a part of the Blue Ridge Regional Library System. The Bassett Branch was again bursting at the seams and the Board of Directors named a committee to lead a community effort to raise money to purchase the building across the street for the "regular" library. This project was completed in November 1998, leaving the genealogy materials in the original building. For a few months the staff thought it might take a very long time before all the shelves would be needed, however, collections are donated to the Center on a continuing basis and the shelves are again getting full.

The early collection consistently grew through the efforts of dedicated people such as Mrs. Effie Noland, Mrs. Shirley Brightwell Bassett, Mrs. Lelia Adams, and Mrs. Martha Jane Clark. The present-day collections are growing due to the staff and the volunteers who faithfully care for the patrons and the data on the shelves just waiting to be uncovered again. Patrons and researchers have been extremely generous with their files and books. The Center currently houses over 11,000 genealogy books, around 7000 genealogy family files, 995 genealogy files Pilson Collection, over 2500 local history files and 112 personal computer genealogy collections. Local company collections from DuPont, Tultex, Bassett-Walker, and Blue Ridge Hardware & Supply Co., are housed here. Henry County is one of the five counties in Virginia that has a Cohabitation List. Slaves were not permitted to marry legally but did have families, with the counties keeping records of which slaves were cohabitating. Also available is the "Afro-American Marriages of Henry County, Virginia,” by Harris and Millner, which would be helpful to find an ancestor dating back to the early or mid-1800's. The collection of Mr. John B. Harris, African-American educator and historian, is also housed here. Mr. Richard Gravely is responsible for the "Bicentennial Collection,” a collection of county records and loose papers found in the Henry County Courthouse, being housed here.

Researchers have visited the Historical Center from every state in the Union and from Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, England, Canada, Luxembourg, Taiwan, and Italy.

The information in the Historical Center focuses on 5 immediate counties in Virginia: Henry, Patrick, Floyd, Franklin, Pittsylvania; and 3 bordering counties in North Carolina: Rockingham, Surry, and Stokes.

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