Groundbreaking to launch expansion of Bassett Historical Center

November 22, 2009

By STEVE SHEPPARD - Special to the Bulletin

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday on a 4,195-square-foot addition to the Bassett Historical Center that will double the size of the facility.

The addition will include a meeting room, multi-purpose room, records room and office space at the building on Virginia 57 in Bassett.

The Bassett Historical Center building committee also has developed plans so that a second story can be added at a later date if needed, according to Bassett Historical Center building committee chairman Ronnie Stone.

Stanley W. Bowles Corp, will be the contractor for construction.

The $805,000 project is being funded through donations from the community and businesses and a $205,000 grant from the Harvest Foundation.

The addition will enable Bassett Historical Center to continue to draw researchers and historians to this area from across the nation as well as expand its services.

The center has gained state, national and international attention as a research facility in the areas of genealogy, Native American, African American and Civil War research and providing information on the tobacco, furniture and textile industry, according to center Director Pat Ross.

“We are so appreciative to the Harvest Foundation, to Allyson Rothrock and to her staff for their guidance, for their suggestions to help us go forward, and for their efforts on our behalf,” Ross said.

Rothrock, director of the Harvest Foundation, said the foundation is proud to partner with the organization.

“The Historical Center is another hidden gem in our community that attracts attention from across the country,” Rothrock said. “The volunteer board has worked tirelessly to raise the necessary money to both preserve and expand this treasure.”

Stone added that EMI in Bassett will supply the building’s security system.

The doubling of space will allow for more workshops, create space to display DNA testing and bone marrow transplant information, display space for Native American and African American collections, increase space for donated collections and provide a community meeting room, Ross said.

“It’s not just people in this community that provide collections and information to us, it’s people all across Virginia and the United States,” Ross said. Collections have come from California, Washington, Texas, Arkansas, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina.

“They want their research and many times their family items to come back home to where their ancestors are from, or still living. There is a lot of sharing in family history,” she said.

One big advantage of the addition will be that the center can receive new collections of information and items families plan to donate, according to Phil Dalton, a member of the Bassett Public Library Association and a member of the center’s building committee.

“There are also collections we are unable to receive simply because of limitations in space here. We just can’t house them,” Dalton said. “We are fearful of losing them. Once they are passed on in another direction they are gone forever.”

The center, which was created in the existing building’s basement, opened in the back room of the Bassett Library in 1989 and took over the library building in 1998 when a new library facility was purchased across Virginia 57 in Bassett with funds from a community campaign, according to Ross.

The war room at the current facility includes items dating back to the Revolutionary War. The center also has birth records, death and marriage records, wills, deeds, obituaries and the Henry County cohabitation register in its holdings. More than 13,000 books and items are available to the public as are family and local history files.

The cohabitation register is a rare and important document for genealogy, according to Beverly Millner.

“I find this area to be very unique with African American history. There’s one document called the cohabitation register. I think most of the counties in Virginia were suppose to have one, but for some reason they were destroyed or lost,” Millner said. “The lists only survived in five or six counties in Virginia. This document lists the people who were former slaves, their children and their names and when they were born. This is very unique because there are not too many of those documents available.”

Daphne Stone, a member of the building committee, said the center has so much information on genealogy that it takes a long time to exhaust the possibilities of finding everything you can learn.

She said that in the late 1980s, she decided one day to visit the center to collect some information and then go to Patrick County to see what it had later that afternoon.

“I came here at one o’clock. I got to Stuart two years later,” she said. “At that time everything was just in this one room. I literally spent two summers here researching my family’s history and my husband’s family history.”

Ronnie Stone said the new construction has come at a great time.

“We had so much shelving space we didn’t think we would ever need any more,” Stone said of when the center opened. “It was no time before it was filled up.

“Some people who have spent their life doing family history could leave it (research) to a family member, but you don’t always find a family member that is as excited about family history,” he said. “So they leave their collections here so that their family can come and do their research and others can do their research on that family and the information is protected and safely looked after.”

Part of the problem at the center now is inadequate seating for people who come to do research, according to Stone.

That is important because the center is not like a public library where visitors can take books and information with them. They have to copy or write the information found there. So some people stay all day or may be there for weeks collecting information, according to Ross.

The additional seating also will give better access to computers for research. People will be able to bring their laptops and use the center’s wireless access, Ross added.

A lot of people who want to get into genealogy are not sure how to start, according to Ross. The new meeting room, which will seat about 50, will allow space for more frequent genealogy workshops and additional programs.

The center has two full-time staff members, two part-time employees and eight volunteers who work on a regular basis. There will be no increase in staff after the facility is completed, according to Ross.

Despite having reached its fundraising goal, the center still needs to raise an additional $112,000 to pay for unexpected costs in preparing the site, such as excavating for the new parking area, a new catch basin, tree removal and moving a power line.


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