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Pictorial history of area to aid Bassett Historical Center
Latest Tom Perry book being released today
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Tom Perry opens the Henry County book to the page showing Pat Ross of the Bassett Historical Center as a child, with relatives. Proceeds from Perry’s book will go to the expansion of the historical center. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Monday, March 2, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Tom Perry, historian, lecturer and author, isn't complaining about his hectic schedule.

He recently returned from lecturing in Wytheville and before that, he was in Philadelphia.

This week, he will be in Martinsville and Henry County signing copies of a book titled "Images of America in Henry County."

The book is dedicated to the history of the area. Perry is donating all royalties from the book's sales to help fund an $800,000 expansion of the Bassett Historical Center.

The cost of the book is $22. Books sold at the historical center contribute $44 by the time a matching grant from The Harvest Foundation is factored in.

The book was released today, and Perry will hold book signings at the historical center and at Fast Track on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Copies of the book also will be available Saturday during the Bassett Historical Symposium, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at EMI Imaging, across the street from the center.

Several other book signings will be held throughout the area, and Perry as well as Pat Ross and others at the historical center hope sales soar.

The book contains four chapters - one each dedicated to Bassett, Fieldale, Martinsville and Henry County. It basically is a compilation of about 200 photos submitted by residents such as former Martinsville fire chief Jerry Brock, Teddy Compton, Doug Steagall, Avis Turner and others.

Dr. John Bing "went around and knocked on doors" to get photos for the project that represents "a snapshot of life," Perry said.

A picture of Pam Armstrong, wife of Del. Ward Armstrong and chairman of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and her fellow cheerleaders at J.D. Bassett High School is on the front cover, and Perry jokes he made her "a cover girl."

The snapshot is one of more than 1,700 contributed for the project. Perry said he tried to include at least one photo from each of those who submitted material.

If this book does well, there are plenty of leftover photos for future volumes on different areas of the county, Perry said.

Sitting at one of the tables in the War Room in the historical center, he was quick to talk about his first visit to the center several years ago.

While sitting in the same spot, Perry said he looked to a nearby shelf and saw a brick from J.E.B. Stuart's birthplace on display.

"I just started to laugh," said Perry, who also has written several books about Stuart. When he saw the brick, "I knew I was home."

At the time, Perry had never written or published a book, he said, but by the end of this year, he will have 10 volumes in print.

Much of his research has been done at the center, which he has dubbed "the best little library in Virginia" because of the reference material available.

He also believes it is the third top attraction to the area, behind Martinsville Speedway and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Researchers from every state in the United States and nine foreign countries, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, England, Canada, Luxembourg, Taiwan, and Italy, have visited the center. It houses more than 11,000 books on genealogy, about 7,000 genealogy family files and local company collections from DuPont, Tultex, Bassett-Walker and Blue Ridge Hardware & Supply Co., according to its Web site.

No matter how busy his schedule, Perry visits the center frequently, even though it is a 100-mile round-trip from his Patrick County home.

When he visits now, Perry has another story to share. A slide projector he once used when giving lectures about Stuart is prominently displayed beside the brick - another of his gifts to the center.

"I thought that would be a good place for it," Perry said.

For more information about the book, the historical center expansion or other projects, visit or


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