By Callie Hietala
A group of local volunteers hope to write a new chapter in the storied life of the Bassett Community Center, located at 119 Blackberry Road in Bassett.
Linda Crabtree, president of the Bassett Community Center board of trustees, and Michael Jarrett are members of the Save the Bassett Community Center group, which hopes to reopen the community center’s pool by summer of 2022 and have the indoor facilities available by 2023.
The pool is an Olympic 25-meter pool, Crabtree said, 11-feet at its deepest end and 3-feet at the shallow end, with a separate wading pool for youngsters.
Funding will come from grants, individual donations, and – the group hopes – corporate sponsorships, Crabtree said, adding that the group does not yet know how much money it will need to get the space up and running by summer.
“We’re waiting on National Pools to come” inspect the site to learn exactly what needs to be done and at what cost, Crabtree said.
The pool is the group’s focus because it believes the pool will be easier to repair and reopen quickly, Crabtree said. It also has the potential to attract potential members. Plus, the group hopes that profits from concessions will generate revenue that can then be put toward additional repairs.
Both Crabtree and Jarrett fondly remember the earliest days of the community center, which opened with great fanfare in June 1960.
“I was one of the very first people to shoot a basketball in the gym,” Jarrett said.
Because he lived just across the river as a boy, Jarrett said he was at the center “most every day,” spending most of his summer hours at the pool. His father, Jarrett recalled, was an excellent bowler and enjoyed spending time at the bowling alley on the ground floor.
Crabtree said that her father could not afford to join the center when it initially opened because it was too expensive with six children in the family. However, by 1961, the family were members.
Crabtree went to work for the center as a lifeguard at the pool at the age of 15, walking an hour to work each morning from Bassett Heights. She fondly remembered arriving at work in the summer and going to open the gate by the pool—the first gate opened each day at 8 a.m.
“There would be 7 or 8, 10 kids out there every summer morning” waiting at the gate, she said, all having been dropped off by parents on their way to work. The children would sit around, waiting for the gate to open, “and they would stay here all day and their parents knew they didn’t have to worry about them, that we would see to it they were taken care of.”
Crabtree said the center cost $360,000 to build.
“Even though I worked here for seven years, I always thought Bassett owned this,” she said. “They were a huge benefactor.”
She later learned that Bassett Furniture Industries contributed $126,000, while the rest of the funding came from individuals and small businesses.
According to an article in the “Henry County Journal,” about 4,000 people were expected to attend the grand opening on June 11, 1960, to enjoy free soda, ice cream, cookies, and tours of the new building. Swimming cost 10-cents, and 25-cents was charged for bowling. Even before it opened its doors, about 800 family memberships had been sold, according to the article.
The new center was a hub of social activity in a community that had little to offer its residents at the time.
“It was a great place, and it was the only place we had to go do anything in Bassett,” Crabtree said. “It was a godsend to us.”
She recalled that 300 to 400 youngsters would come to the center for summer camp programs each year, while Jarrett said that, once built, the gym was the site of Bassett High School’s basketball games.
When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, Crabtree said much of the center’s funding dwindled, and eventually dried up entirely. Many of the companies that had once provided jobs for a bustling community and served as corporate sponsors withdrew funding, and the employees who bought memberships for their families moved away in search of new work. Keeping the facility open became a struggle, Crabtree said.
For a time, the space was managed by Stanleytown Baptist Church. When that organization moved out, Bassett approached Henry County about taking over operations, but the county declined. The Bassett Community Center closed its doors in 2019.
Crabtree, Jarrett, and others hope the center can once again welcome the community, but there is a lot of work to do.
The facility has suffered a series of setbacks including a leaking ceiling (Basset Industries paid $60,000 for a new one), flooding, asbestos, and several break-ins during which items were stolen and the property was damaged. The building never had centralized air conditioning, and the boiler that once provided heat is long gone.
Handicapped access to the pool and building must be improved, Jarrett said, and the restrooms need to be renovated.
The group already has secured donations from Bassett Industries and the Lester Group. It is working with Bassett, to hopefully find an engineer who can walk through the building and determine what needs to be done to reopen the facility. And, most importantly, the group is spreading the word.
Jarrett said the group also has received inquiries about using the center’s outdoor fields for games. Community members have brought in donations of supplies including paper towels. The energy around the revitalization is beginning to grow.
Crabtree said that she and others are working on an improved revitalization plan that focuses on sustainability.
“When we get it open, we’ve got to keep it open,” Jarrett said, adding the group hopes to rely on membership and community support.
Crabtree said she, Jarrett and others in the community “have a deep love for this place. We want to see it revived; we want to see something good happen.”
The going may be slow, but “we’re getting there,” she added.
Donations to the center’s revitalization effort can be made online at https://gofund.me/59f456eb or by searching for Save the BCC Pool on GoFundMe.com. Donations may be mailed to Bassett Community Center, c/o Bassett Furniture Industries, P.O. Box 626, Bassett, VA 24055.