Two archivists opened the Martinsville Henry County Historical Museum in uptown Martinsville on Friday.
The museum has hundreds of artifacts on display, including historical images of important business, political, sports and entertainment people. There also are images of historical business and public buildings; memorabilia from businesses, industries, household life, entertainment and military service.
In addition, there are nearly 20 models of trade and war ships from several countries made by the late Durwood “Bo” Hanel, who was commissioner of revenue in Martinsville who had a hobby shop.
“I think it’s great. I love history,” said Shirley Lawson Foster of Figsboro as she toured the museum, at 41 E. Church St. She said it’s important to preserve the past to better understand the present and future.
“It’s spectacular," said Ruth Gravely of Collinsville. She especially enjoyed seeing a photograph of a train wreck in Koehler in 1946, which happened when she was a teenager.
The proprietors and archivists of the museum, in a 9,000-square-foot, two-story leased building, are Carl deHart, Martinsville archivist and a retired reference librarian, and Desmond Kendrick, the archivist for Henry County, DeHart said.
“We’re hoping a lot of people will be able to see evidence of our past lives and the way we lived and worked,” deHart said. Also, he said he and Kendrick hope to provide historical education for young people.
They both displayed a bit of their historical knowledge as they showed few of the items on display.
Kendrick said there were tobacco farmers, plug tobacco manufacturers and country store owners among his relatives, and he tried to reflect their lifestyles, livelihoods and business ventures in the museum collections. There are photos of some of them and their businesses, such as Peyton Gravely, 1790-1864, co-founder of Gravely Tobacco Co. in Leatherwood.
Since tobacco was historically such a vital part of this region’s economy, there is a model of a barn for curing tobacco; photos of various tobacco warehouses in the area; “premiums” from tobacco companies that Kendrick received when he was growing up, such as cigarette cases and cigarette lighters; photos of tobacco industrialist R.J. Reynolds, first cousin of Kendrick’s paternal great-grandfather; and a tobacco pipe made from tobacco leaf.
Photos show Charles Ward Holt, founder of Holt Department Store, in the early 1900s; William Letcher Pannill, founder of Pannill Knitting Co., in 1925; and several businesses dating from the 1800s.
Advertisements include 1930s ads for Palmolive, Chesterfield and Bon Ami. One photo shows Martinsville twins Dorothy and Grace Alexander, who deHart said were photogenic and athletic and were selected in the 1940s to do a nationwide advertising campaign for Chesterfield cigarettes.
“They were treated like queens,” he said.
Among the other artifacts overlapping business, politics, public service and human interest are a photo of Thomas Bahnson Stanley Sr., 1890-1970, who grew up near Horsepasture. He was the governor of Virginia from 1954-58 and also served in the state House of Delegates and the House of Representatives. He started Stanley Furniture Co. in 1922 and married Anne Pocahontas Bassett, whose father, J.D. Bassett, was one of the six founders of Bassett Furniture Co. in 1902. The gloves and purse Anne Stanley wore at her husband’s inauguration as governor are on display.
There is a display on Dr. Drewry Mason, a prominent medical doctor in Ridgeway who served on the school board and for whom Drewry Mason High School (now an elementary school) was named. Personal family items, such as photos and Dr. Mason’s medical bag and stethoscope, are included.
A photo also shows Sally Katherine Cook Booker 1857-1944, was the first woman from Henry County to serve in the Virginia legislature (at age 69) and the third woman in Virginia to do so. She served two one-year terms.
Among the military memorabilia there is a photo of an unsung hero of World War II with local roots. Maj. Gen. Edwin Martin, 1894-1945, who grew up in Martinsville and was a military aide to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt,. After FDR was briefed on the Germans’ attempts to develop an atomic bomb, he instructed Martin to do something right away. Martin instigated the Manhattan Project, which developed the U.S. atomic bomb at a cost of $2 billion, deHart said.
Other military memorabilia include awards and medals, a replica of a Civil War pistol, a World War I soldier’s hat and leg coverings and a World War II military recruitment poster.
As for the more ordinary daily lives of people, there are children’s toys; AM-only radios; old-timey projectors, fans, typewriters, telephones; a Victrola wind-up record player; bygone vehicles; and various household medicines and lotions.
Entertainment displays include sheet music of popular singers, such as Frank Sinatra, and a display on well known local musician Jim Eanes, a guitarist who was most known as a vocalist who played with Ralph Stanley. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe.
The museum has a local sports hall of fame of sorts, too, including a few locals who went on to prominence in the big leagues, as well as some well-known local teams. One photo shows Randy Hundley, from Bassett, jumping off the ground as he protests an umpire’s call in a pennant game between his team, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Mets. J.C. Martin, a Drewry Mason High School graduate, played for the Mets in that game.
Another photo is of Henry Emmett Manush, who managed the Martinsville Athletics farm team and went on to play for major league clubs. He had a lifetime batting average of .330 with 2,524 hits, and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Admission to the museum is free. It is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and by appointment. Donations will be accepted.
DeHart said that at present the museum is an a nonprofit, unfunded museum, which plans to apply for 501-3-C tax exempt status, and if that is approved, seek grants.