April 15, 2016|
When there is a group of determined, well-educated women with an idea and a dream, look out! One such group was able to bring their dream to life in forming the Bassett Public Library.
The Bassett Garden Club was organized in 1929 and at one time was the oldest club in Henry County. Mrs. B.F. Noland and Mrs. Harry Knight were both instrumental in getting this club organized with a total of 24 charter members, one of which was Mrs. Thomas B. Stanley who even hosted the Bassett Garden Club and the Bassett Garden Club Auxiliary at the Executive Mansion in Richmond in April 1956. This extraordinary group of ladies accomplished many great things in this area such as cleaning up the river banks through Bassett, installing street signs throughout the town, beautifying the roads in Bassett, publishing cook books, planting the grounds of the Bassett Post Office, holding rummage sales for fund raising projects, and holding annual flower shows from which several members were accredited flower show judges. But their greatest feat just might have been the Bassett Public Library.
The first library in Bassett was in a Reed Stone building next to the Stone Theater in a single upstairs room which was formerly a confectionary. As far back as 1939, “book teas” became an activity of choice for a garden club and members would bring books to donate to the library collection to help it grow. Because of this growth, by 1944 the library occupied two rooms which was heated by a pot bellied stove over the Kroger Store across the street. In the year 1946, the Bassett Public Library became incorporated with Mr. W.M. Bassett elected as President and Mrs. Effie Noland as librarian. There were three ladies who carried the title of librarian before Mrs. Noland. They were Miss Annie Thomasson, Miss Dora Mitchell, and Miss Hazel Stone. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in 1952 in the Kroger Store and several of the books were ruined due to smoke damage. Some were able to be cleaned and saved by Mrs. Effie herself. Mrs. Noland dreamed of a bigger and better place to call home to this growing collection of books and shared her idea with the members of the garden club. During World War II, the ladies of the Bassett Garden Club gathered and collected scrap metal to sell in order to raise money for this endeavor. Some got in trouble with their husbands for loading the scrap metal in their own cars. The $1,500 raised from this project, which was a considerable amount back then, began the creation of the Bassett Public Library with Mrs. Effie Noland at the helm. As money was being raised, the library was temporarily moved to the old Bassett Grammar School which was vacant at that time. This became the site of the library between October 1952 and June 1955. There was a tremendous amount of help given from local industries, businesses, and individuals to help make this group’s dream a reality. Bassett Furniture Industries graciously donated land located on North Riverside Drive for a new building to be built. Enough money was raised and in 1955 a new building was designed by Martinsville architect J. Coates Carter which was to become the new Bassett Public Library. His southern colonial style with a portico almost the same size as the one at Monticello housed reading rooms for children and adults, a reference room, a film room, a magazine rack, and an area for patrons to listen to records. Mrs. W.B. (Alma) Dillon was the first to donate a memorial book to the library. It was in memory of Carl Hoover, Jr. who was killed overseas during World War II.
Mrs. Noland retired in 1959 and not only does her portrait greet patrons entering the front entrance, there is also a picture of some of the members of the Bassett Garden Club who were instrumental in starting the library commemorating her retirement: Mrs. D.L. Fleshman, Mrs. B.F. (Effie) Noland, Mrs. G.F. (Vera) Craig, Mrs. H.M. (Lou) Penn, Mrs. W.M. (Gladys) Bassett, Mrs. E.T. (Hattie) Ramsey, Mrs. J.E. (Ruby) Bassett, Sr., and Mrs. W.W. (Maggie) Smith.
After Mrs. Noland retired in 1959, Mrs. G.W. (Shirley) Bassett became librarian. Mrs. Bassett included her passion and began a small genealogy room in the basement which consisted of a few shelves of books and a four drawer filing cabinet. In 1989, a new addition was added to the original building which enabled the genealogy “department” to be brought upstairs to a room on the main floor which is now known as the War Room. In December 1998, the Bassett Historical Center was born as the Bassett Public Library was moved across the street to occupy the old “Marilyn’s” building. In 2005, due to much growth, added collections, programs, and numerous patrons, a fund raising campaign was begun for another “new” addition which expanded the building again in 2010. Now, this building, which was once the idea of a few but the dream of many, houses the best collection of family and local history in the Piedmont. I think this group of little ladies would get a kick out of seeing just what their vision has become.
Thanks to Lizz Stanley, granddaughter of Governor and Mrs. Thomas Bahnson Stanley, the Bassett Historical Center is for the first time one of the sites on the Historic Garden Tour! Talk about coming full circle. Even though these female pioneers aren’t here with us, I know their spirits will be!
"Libraries are necessary gardens, unsurpassed at growing excitement." J. Patrick Lewis