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Local groups create guide to ‘Historic Driving Tour’
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Virginia King (left) of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society and Brian Williams of the Dan River Basin Association show a guide book the organizations developed about local historic properties. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Two organizations hope their new guide book spurs people to spend a day or two learning about local historic properties.

The “Historic Driving Tour,” published by the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) and the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society, highlights 33 properties of significance to the community.

Many more properties were worthy of being in the book, and it was hard to select just some, said Virginia King, past president of the historical society.

Various factors were taken into account in deciding which ones to include. For instance, the old courthouse uptown —perhaps the city’s most famous building — was the only structure in the central business district included in the tour because other historic buildings there were highlighted in another publication, the “Martinsville Historic District Walking Tour.”

Funding for the guide was provided by The Harvest Foundation. The exact amount could not be determined Tuesday.

But with limited funds, the size of the book had to be limited, King said.

Also, “we were looking at developing something for people to do in two days,” maybe a weekend, said DRBA Program Manager Brian Williams.

So-called “heritage tourism is huge” in popularity, and the guide will help people visiting the area learn about its history, Williams said.

“We want to bring people in to see what attractions we have here,” King said.

But “I hope people (living) here take advantage of the book,” too, Williams said. To his understanding, “a lot of people here have lived here all of their lives and don’t know the histories of the properties” featured.

The 33-page book contains short summaries of the histories of Martinsville, Fieldale, Bassett, Spencer and Ridgeway and attractions in those communities. Alongside the summaries are photos of the attractions taken by historical society members Sam and Carolyn Davis.

Attractions in the book include the former Virginia Home boarding house in Fieldale, the Little Post Office in Martinsville and the Bassett Train Station, plus stately houses and old factories, schools, churches and cemeteries.

Homes profiled include Stoneleigh, the former residence of the late Gov. T.B. Stanley; Beaver Creek Plantation, where grave markers in the Hairston family cemetery identify people from six generations; and Marrowbone, thought to be the oldest frame house in Henry County.

Information about the properties was culled from other publications about local history as well as the National Register of Historic Places.

Many of the properties date to the 18th century. That includes Marrowbone, which was built in 1749, the book mentions.

Having that many centuries-old structures that have been well-preserved “says a lot about the community,” Williams said.

The West Piedmont Planning Commission provided maps in the guide that direct readers to the properties. Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates also are listed.

Many of the structures now are private property. Therefore, the book asks tour-takers to respect the property owners’ privacy and view the structures from the roads.

People can enter only a few of the properties, King emphasized.

The book is being sold for $3 at the historical society’s Heritage Center & Museum inside the old courthouse uptown. Proceeds will be used to maintain a gift shop that has been established at the center.

DRBA and the historical society may team up for other collaborations in the future, Williams and King said. Both organizations want to help promote the area’s cultural and recreational amenities, they said.


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