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Wednesday November 18, 2015

Bassett, Pioneering the Future: The Martinsville-Henry County Garden Day Tour 2016 offers a panorama of life in Bassett, a little town that became a big industrial powerhouse during the 20th century. Now, work is underway to transform it for the 21st century.

Garden Day in Bassett, April 27, is part of the Garden Club of Virginia’s signature Historic Garden Week. Historic Garden Week is the country’s only statewide house-and-garden tour event. Tours take place during the eight-day period in some 30 communities, drawing an estimated 30,000 visitors to Virginia. Many come from around the state; others come from across the country; and still others from other countries.

To be sure, the Bassett tour offers entry into houses and gardens. It showcases the Haley home, a 1938 Classical Revival-style house built by one of the founders of Bassett Furniture Co.

The tour also opens doors into a small brick factory home, one of those built during the early 20th century to house the workers on whose shoulders rested the fortunes and future of the furniture company and the area. The tour’s other stops reflect Bassett’s unique sense of place as home to what was once the largest manufacturer of wooden furniture in the world and kindred companies, while remaining a small town with a sense of connection.

Other tour stops:

  • The Historic J.D. Bassett Event Center/EMI , a red-brick, Georgian Revival-style structure with interior gardens. It was built as a high school to educate the children of factory workers and executives alike. And the center is where lunch will be served, dishes cooked by Patrick Henry Community College culinary arts students overseen by Chef Bob (Robert Koester). They will use recipes from the Bassett Garden Club’s 1950 and 1959 cookbooks.

  • The Bassett Post Office, a 1938 Colonial Revival-style building on whose walls can be seen the fresco “Manufacture of Furniture.” A true fresco, it was painted in wet plaster by artist Walter Carnelli on commission from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts, part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

  • The Bassett Historical Center, sometimes called the best little library in Virginia. With roots that stem from a Garden Club tea in 1939, the center’s present-day trove of 10,000 family files and 3,000 local history files has drawn inquiries from around this country and from 13 other countries, many concerning genealogy. The center also honors the past outside its walls, with a memorial garden and trees.

Bassett Historical Center

  • Hamlet Vineyards, where wine tastings will be offered in the tasting room in the barn at Eltham Manor. Eltham, built by one of Bassett Furniture Industries’ chairmen, is now home to a family of vintners with ties to textiles and car racing, other industries considered iconic of the area. 

  • Fairy Stone State Park, just outside Bassett on the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fairy Stone is the largest of the six original state parks, which opened in 1936. The park and its lake were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program that provided employment during the Great Depression by conserving public resources around the country. The Garden Club of Virginia helped found Virginia State Parks in 1929; today, the Garden Club of Virginia has joined forces with state parks and the Virginia Association for Parks to put state-of-the-art interactive exhibits in more than a dozen parks.

  • The Bassett Train Depot, a 1923 Colonial Revival-style train station that now houses the Henry County Furniture Museum. The depot was integral to creation of a true town of Bassett. In 1952, President Dwight D.Eisenhower’s campaign train made a stop at the depot. On Garden Day, the depot will take on the role as its exhibit space. Those will range from a railway history exhibit with a speaker, to an exhibit about the Bassett Furnituremakers, the town’s semi-pro baseball team where Phil Rizzuto got his start. Visitors can also view local art at the Artisan Trail Exhibit and buy plants, thanks to the green thumbs of Magna Vista High School’s horticultural students. Everything Outdoors will be selling a special flower, the flame creeper azalea, this year’s Historic Garden Week flower. And, from 4 to 7 p.m., tour-takers can sample local wines and spirits. Although the tour officially ends at 6 p.m., visitors can stay on to enjoy the tasting until 7 p.m.

The Bassett tour has its roots in the past. (Three sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) An exhibit at the depot, 15 Magical Miles, speaks to what residents and area leaders envision for the future.The exhibit outlines efforts by the Smith River Small Towns Collaborative with the Harvest Foundation to transform Bassett and neighboring Stanleytown, Fieldale and Koehler, industrial towns that grew up on the banks of the Smith River. The migration of manufacturing jobs overseas to cheaper labor markets left towns like Bassett facing the task of reinventing themselves. Bassett and its neighbors hope to build their future by creating curb appeal, town squares and other amenities. They then hope to draw visitors to fish the waters of the trout-rich Smith, to hike a growing network of trails along the riverbanks and in nearby hills, to partake of area cuisine and spirits, and to participate in cultural events at an outdoor music venue, all against a backdrop of history.

This is the first in a series of posts about the Garden Day 2016 sites, the history behind them and the glimpses into the future that they offer. 

Tickets: $20 per person. On tour day, buy at any site or at tour headquarters. Advance tickets at www.vagardenweek.org. Available locally March 30th- April 24th at Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Martinsville-Henry County Visitor’s Center, Piedmont Arts Association and the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce. Ticketholders may enter Fairy Stone State Park free on tour day.

Lunch: Historic J.D. Bassett Event Center/EMI dining room, 11:30 a.m. to 2p.m.; $12per person. Reservations required by April 25. Contact Eliza Severt, 276-632-2447, ehsevert@aol.com, or Lynn Beeler, 276-638-1030, ldcb@comcast.net.

Getting around: The tour will offer shuttle service. Two tour sites, the Haley house and Hamlet Vineyards, may be accessed only by shuttle. Shuttles will also go to Fairy Stone State Park. Shuttles available at Pocahontas Bassett Baptist Church, 120 Bassett Heights Road.

More info: Contact Lizz Stanley, tour chairman, 276-252-3009, or Cindy Edgerton, tour co-chairman, 276-732-2784. Reach either by email at martinsville@vagardenweek.org.

Tags: Bassett Furniture, Bassett Historical Center, Bassett, Virginia, Dining, Entertainment, Fairy Stone State Park, Hamlet Vineyards, Henry County, Insider's Tips, Local Business, Martinsville, River, Smith River