Bassett Historical Center dedicated

April 17, 2011

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The addition to the Bassett Historical Center — called a gem in the community that preserves its past for future generations — was dedicated Saturday.

The center is a “grand storehouse” of local history, said R. Philip Dalton, president of the Bassett Public Library Association Inc., which owns the building. It is operated by the Blue Ridge Regional Library.

“It is all about preserving the past for the future,” Dalton said.

In a project that spanned five years — two longer than it should have, according to Bassett Historical Center Building Fund Chairman Ronnie Stone — a 4,195-square-foot addition doubled the size of the building at 3964 Fairystone Park Highway in Bassett.

The project added a meeting room, collections room and work room, where new collections will be brought and inventoried before they can be used by the public.

Patrons have come from all 50 states and nine foreign countries to the center, which has 14,560 manuscripts and books, 9,612 genealogical files and 2,948 local history files, as well as microfilm, microfiche, CDs and videos, center manager/director Pat Ross said recently.

Before the addition was completed, there were stacks of books and papers everywhere and hardly room to walk through, said Allyson Rothrock, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, which provided a three-year grant to help fund the addition.

“There was no room to walk or read” despite the wonderful collections in the center, said Rothrock, who admitted she had never been to the center before grant discussions began. She quickly learned “there was a need (for more space). What I didn’t know was the passion” of the center’s staff and volunteers that carried the project through to completion.

Between 2005 and 2008, volunteers logged almost 5,000 hours at the center, Rothrock said she learned from Ross, calling that number “phenomenal.”

In November and December 2010, volunteers contributed more than 500 hours to help move the center’s materials and collections into the addition, Rothrock said.

“This is one of the winners in the portfolio of this community,” and that is due to the people involved with it, she said. The center has won awards nationwide, and is “one of the top five resources in this community.”

Rothrock and others mentioned that it may not be long before there will be talk of the center growing again. The expansion was built so that a second story could be added, several speakers said.

“We’ll probably be talking about going to the next level sooner rather than later. I’m all ears. The community is lucky to have this center,” Rothrock added.

Henry County Board of Supervisors Chairman Debra Buchanan said the center shows that the current issues facing the area “are not unique. ... The items here show the ebbs and flows” in the community, which occur in every area, she said, adding, “We will come back.

“The future looks good,” Buchanan said, citing the growth of the New College Institute and last week’s announcement that ICF International is investing $15 million in a new operations center here that will create 539 jobs.

More good news may be coming in the future, she said, without elaborating. “We are working our way back just like we always have.”

She added that the board of supervisors is proud of its role in helping the historical center expand.

Volunteers, staff, those who raised the nearly $800,000 cost of the expansion and those who worked on the project were recognized.

The standing-room-only crowd was entertained by Peter Ramsey, organist at Pocahontas Bassett Baptist Church. He told the story of J.E.B. Stuart and his devotion to Bettie Hairston. They had grown up together and he was “seriously interested” in her, but “his fortunes were not enough” to be a serious suitor for her, Ramsey said.

Stuart sent Hairston letters and poems, including one written in 1854 called “To Bettie — Far Away,” which Ramsey put to music. It was sung by George Hearn, who was accompanied by Ramsey on an 1850 Chickering piano, the first piano in Henry County.

It was given to the historical center, along with the piano chair and music stand, by Anne-Wilson Covington Thompson, a descendant of the Hairston family of Beaver Creek Plantation in Henry County.

“I wish that I had wings to fly to Bettie far away,” the poem read. “ ... Heaven’s brightest gleaming star is Bettie far away.”


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