Ever in search of the next truckload of awesome mid century furniture, we decided last weekend to fuel up the antique Ford and head for Martinsville VA. Home to American of Martinsville for most of the 20th century, its also just a hop and a skip from the original locations of both the Bassett and Stanley furniture companies. Sure, we were hoping to score some cool vintage pieces, but the opportunity to visit the sites and communities which actually produced all those beautiful mid century modern dressers, credenzas, and tables which we restore and sell was also a major draw.
The weather was great and the drive was beautiful, but, for reasons unknown to us, there wasn’t one single piece of MCM furniture by American to be found in Martinsville. Unsure of where to turn after breakfast our second day out, we asked the advice of our most congenial waitress, who directed us a few miles up route 220 to the little town of Bassett, VA. Well..still no furniture to be found, but an interesting early industrial community on the banks of the idyllic Smith river gave good enough reason to stop and snap some photos.
It turns out the whole town was built by and around the Bassett furniture enterprise. In the late 19th century the Bassett family was operating the sawmill which supplied the ties for the railroad track that still runs through town, and when the track was completed in 1892 needed another market for their lumber. After a few years of shipping his lumber up north only to see it return in the form of furniture to be sold throughout the South at exorbitant prices, John David Bassett decided to cut out the middle man and start up is own furniture company. Early dressers sold for $4.75, washstands for $2.75 and beds for $1.50.
Things may have changed a bit since then, but the basic architecture and infrastructure of Bassett, Va remain unchanged- a river, a railroad track, train station, industrial buildings, two churches, a post office, and just enough modest housing to accommodate the requisite labor force still stand to commemorate the early years of one of America’s most noteworthy 20th century furniture producers.