By Ginny Wray
Renovations to the historic Bassett train depot are in the final stages, with completion hoped by mid to late summer.
The inside of the building is essentially done, the outside has a fresh coat of paint and the town clock has been installed at the southern end of the site. Plans have been approved for curbs and gutters around the building and once that is done and the landscaping is in place, the project will be finished.
It will result in a town square that will set the tone for the style of signs and benches in that area, Jeb Bassett, senior vice president of Bassett Furniture Industries and co-chairman of the Smith River Small Towns Collaborative. Renovations to the depot and surrounding area are part of that collaborative’s efforts to revitalize Bassett. The collaborative also is working to make improvements to Fieldale, Stanleytown and Koehler.
A recent tour of the former depot revealed bright white rooms, handicapped accessible facilities and rest rooms as well as a wheelchair lift, a “warming kitchen” with modern appliances and counter space for use by caterers, and new lighting, heating and air conditioning.
The project respects the building’s history although the intent was not to do a historically accurate renovation, Bassett said. Most doors and windows are original and operational, and in the largest room, the former depot cargo room, the original brick walls and wooden doors were cleaned to preserve their patina.
Also in that room is a scale that is believed to be original to the depot. During World War II the federal government collected all possible metal for the war effort. However, the scale apparently was spared because Bassett Furniture nearby had converted one of its production lines to make wooden truck beds for the war and the scale was needed when shipping parts for the truck beds in and out of the depot.
The original depot, a wooden building, was constructed in the 1800s but later burned, Bassett said. The depot that replaced it — the one still standing — was constructed between 1923 and 1927, he said.
“The best we can tell the original depot was red brick. Over time it was painted several times,” he said.
Numerous renderings were done in the process of selecting the outside cream and green paint colors for the renovation project, Bassett said. A committee of Nancy Spilman, Virginia Hamlet and Ruby Davis chose the final project colors, he added.
The new warming kitchen is on the south end of the building next to the former depot waiting room. One of that room’s unique features is a bowed window that enabled passengers to look down the tracks to watch for their train, Bassett said.
Next is a transition area between the waiting room and the cargo area. The floor there was raised to be handicapped accessible, and a wheelchair lift has been installed there so visitors can get to the cargo area.
Peter Morrison of Bassett Furniture has created a timeline, starting in the 1890s, that will be hung on the walls around that transition area. Bassett said the timeline is stored electronically so it can be updated as new historical information comes to light and rehung.
The former cargo room has a raised platform on one end for performances or presentations. The platform is lined with the remnants of old wooden doors that could not be reused. Modern restaurant doors will be used for most people to enter and exit the room, but the remaining original large sliding wooden doors can be opened if needed.
Parking will be available behind the building and next to the Reed Stone Street Block.
The vision is for the depot to be an event center for weddings, social gatherings, business meetings and other activities, Bassett said. When the renovation project is done, a manager will handle bookings, security and other details, he said, adding that the building has a 200-person capacity.
The building is privately owned by the nonprofit Henry County Furniture Museum. The renovation project has cost $892,929, which is being covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission ($500,000), the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. ($200,000), and the Harvest Foundation ($192,929).
The renovation plans were created by Hill Studios of Roanoke, and John Daniel Construction is the contractor for the project.
Next to the depot is the Reed Stone Block, where the facades of some storefronts will be removed and the brick will be cleaned and lightly stained in complimentary colors, Bassett said.
One one end of that block is a 10-foot wide section owned by the Bassett Furniture Foundation. An outdoor patio with a paver foundation, partial roof and gabion seating walls has been created there by Everything Outdoors. Inside, there are provisions for a kitchen, heating and air conditioning and other features, Bassett said.
A tenant is being sought for the property, he said, adding it could be suitable for a coffee shop or similar enterprise.
He added that the revitalization of the storefront facades and the development of the outdoor common areas should promote interest among businesses in local shops, services and eateries, and commerce and tourism will follow.
Finally, a welcome sign will be erected at Fairystone Park Highway and Carson Lane.
The Smith River Small Towns Collaborative was formed in 2013 to advance the communities of Philpott, Bassett, Stanleytown, Fieldale and Koehler.
Partners included the Harvest Foundation, Henry County Planning & Zoning and Parks and Recreation, Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., West Piedmont Planning District Commission, Dan River Basin Association and community representatives from Bassett, Fieldale and Stanleytown.
The collaborative worked with those partners to map the “pearls of the community,” creating a vision, plans for development and plans for greater curb appeal in the communities, according to Bassett.
“We always had a vision before that” for the depot “but no money,” he said. Once the project was identified as a “pearl,” grant funds could be sought, he added.
In 2016, grants were awarded to Henry County for Phase 1 revitalization. It is being funded with public and private money.