Bassett Historical Center draws tourists from around the globe

November 23, 2009

By STEVE SHEPPARD - Special to the Bulletin

(Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories on the expansion of the Bassett Historical Center. Sunday’s article outlined the center’s services and reasons for expanding.)

Not only is the Bassett Historical Center a genealogy gold mine, but it also is a tourist draw for the area, according to Director Pat Ross.

Visitors come to Bassett from across the United States and overseas including Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Thailand, England, South Africa, Taiwan, Luxembourg and Canada, she said.

This year, the center has seen an increase of 626 visitors compared with last year, with more than 1,600 people coming from outside the area. Last month, more than 900 people came to the center and some stayed for several hours, some all day and others for a week.

“These people utilize our motels, restaurants, gas stations and stores,” Ross said. “We are a significant part of the area’s tourism.”

The increasing use of the center and its need for more room for collections, services and programs are behind plans for a 4,195-square-foot addition to its building on Virginia 57 in Bassett. Ground will be broken for that $805,000 project at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Ross said among the center’s many collections and resources are manuscripts that follow the immigration trails for early settlers.

“For example, when someone came into Pennsylvania they may have followed the Indian trails that came through here. They may have stopped here or lived here for a while. We are getting research from the era,” she said adding those early records lead to families across the nation.

“Genealogy has become the number one hobby in the United States,” said Ross. “Younger people are getting more interested in it.”

Ross said that in a two-week span this past summer, the center had eight people in two different groups from Salt Lake City, Utah, come for research. They found out about the Bassett Historical Center from their neighbor in Utah.

One man from California, in the Martin family for which Martinsville is named, came so often for research that he bought a home near the center and came for six months each year to do research.

People from every state have done research at the center, according to Ross.

“Two weeks ago a lady from Missouri and a lady from Kansas were here for four days. Families come in during the summer,” she said.

“Lots of times we have patrons come from outside the area and the husband will fish and the wife will do research. Sometimes the wife will go shopping or go across the street and read a novel, and the husband will do the research. Then there are husband and wife teams that research together.”

Researching ancestors for medical reasons also is growing, according to Ross.

“We have people come here for help in finding a relative for them because someone has cancer and needs a bone marrow donor,” she said. “I know of three cases that it worked (in). Where else would you go to find someone like that?"

Others seek the causes of death of their ancestors to determine their own medical history, which can help doctors.

Ross said some people come to find a lost family member or to try to find their parents.

“We provide the names and it is up to them to contact the person,” she said.

Ross enjoys working with these patrons.

“Genealogists are a good group of people and never boring. There is always something new and interesting they find and want to share with other people,” she said.

Ronnie Stone, chairman of the building committee, said that studying genealogy can be addicting. That, he said, is why people sometimes will do research for a week.

“You find something that leads you to more research. That’s what excites me is the collecting of knowledge and knowing more about my family’s background,” he said.

One project the center did recently that should attract people from across the nation is video interviews with World War II veterans.

“Some of them showed up in uniform. The new building will give more room for this kind of research,” Ross said.

Building committee chairman Mary McGee said part of the reason people come from all across the nation is the center’s helpful staff.

“If you want to know anything, you come here. I tell people all the time to come to Bassett. They know everything and they know where to find what they don’t know,” she said.

Ross believes the key to their success is the sharing of all information.

“If there is something here that you need for local history or family history, it is shared with the public. If people share with us to build our files and collection of books, it is only right to turn around and share with other people,” she said.

That also explains why families give their collections of historical items and information to the center.

“They know we will preserve history here,” she said.


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