May 22, 2014|
Inventorying collections can be fun, as one always finds interesting papers, articles, photographs and such. In going through the newly donated Chatham Collection, many newspaper articles were saved. Some articles once again tell about the history of our area, while some of the articles are told by someone who lived this history. K.L. Thompson, Jr. who was editor of the Martinsville Bulletin at one time printed a “Remember When?” article that came from some old papers he had found, written in 1939 by John David Bassett, Sr., a founder of Bassett Furniture Industries Inc.
Thompson states that Mr. Bassett was “a massive man physically, he grew up as a lad on the family farm in western Henry County before moving to Bassett proper to open a store and to serve as postmaster of the community that later bore his name. His reminiscences were always refreshing, as the one we print here.” So, here is the article written first by Mr. Bassett, later printed in the Bulletin by Thompson.
“Recollecting that I was 10 years old before I ever saw a railroad train…that great event happened in my life when I was taken on a trip to Danville. I believe the Henry County of my boyhood was, perhaps, one of the remotest places in the world. It was a mighty long way to Danville or to Lynchburg, as people had to go then over roads which usually were hub-deep most of the winter and spring. Consequently, there was might little going. But people were able to get along pretty well at home. There were farmers here in those days and they raised a lot of everything they needed. Most of the people were very poor in those days following the War Between the States, but I believe everybody got enough to eat. Almost everyone then had more good things to eat than we have now.
My father (John Henry Bassett) was comparatively well off. That is, in a part of the south where spending money was terribly scarce, he had a little cash. I am mentioning that because I want to say everybody in the County was honorable above question. When a person needed money for a horse or a cow, my father would lend it to him without interest, and without taking the scratch of a pen to show for it. He never lost a cent, as far as I know.
There was a big family of us, I, the oldest, having been born just after Lee’s surrender, and so we were brought up to work hard. My father had to learn how to work a farm. His father, before 1861, owned 88 slaves who had done most of the work. But, my father learned and we all worked and I don’t regret any of it now, because it seems to me we enjoyed life. We always kept six cows, four or five hundred chickens, a couple of hundred guineas, 50 turkeys, 50 geese and a lot of ducks…or as many as foxes would share with us. Wild turkeys used to fly from one ridge to the other across the meadow where our furniture factories are mostly situated now, and there were lots of deer. We had steers to kill when meat was needed, and everybody made his own bread in those days, and we had plenty of vegetables. There was plenty to satisfy appetites whetted by hard work. I don’t know how long it has been since I heard of anybody seeing a mink. There used to be ever so many of them and the woods were full of wildcats. We also heard stories of wolves being about at times and I have no doubt that they were.
Not every winter was there any school near the Bassett farm. My father wanted us to be educated and once I was sent some distance from home to board through the school session. The school house was framed by logs, about 20 feet square, and benches were fashioned about as roughly as you can imagine from halves of chestnut logs, supported on pins for legs. Sometimes I think some of their splinters are still with me! Education was rudimentary, but thorough, and when I got through I was qualified to teach…qualified, that is, as well as teachers had to be then. I walked 20 miles one day because I heard there was a school teaching place open up in Franklin County, but I didn’t get it (the position as teacher).
My brothers, C.C. and Sam, were associated with me in various businesses from the beginning. When the Norfolk and Western started the line between Roanoke and Winston, we prevailed on them to come our way (through Bassett). That brought crowds of construction engineers and workmen, whose needs gave way to my venture in the goods business. The others went along and in time I sold out to them and started on the road selling wholesale groceries. That was how I first met R.L. Stone, co-founder and lifelong partner in all this furniture business. Mr. Stone had found a place to set up store in lower Henry County, and when we got acquainted, he used to buy everything he needed from me. When I settled in Bassett again, he sold out and came along, always taking stock in everything we started, and always proving an excellent partner. He married our sister, and the four of us worked together until Sam Bassett’s death about twenty years ago and my brother C.C. died in 1930.
Having started thinking about life in this neighborhood a half hundred or more years ago, I can’t help being struck by the contrast today in 1939, especially in the lives of young people. Stark necessity is not a thing to be wished for, not by any means. But, because of necessity, people had to work hard, and young people used to enjoy better the few simple pleasures and amusements they could afford. I am sure the country boy or girl in those days could get more satisfaction out of having five cents to spend than the average youngster today can get out of a Ford car. Of course, everything depends on time and circumstances, but I wonder sometimes whether human beings get any more out of life now, for all its conveniences.”