The Very First Henry County Fair

We recently saw the very first Henry County Fair. At least, I think it was the very first county fair. Comments on one of the local paper’s Facebook page sugggested that with questions like “Since when have we had a county fair?”.

It was pulled off beautifully and, if this had been a normal year, I think it would have been a big hit. However, this was not a normal year. The annual Martinsville Oktoberfest that was to be held just a week later was cancelled over Covid concerns. From the comments I saw, there was just a general confusion over why sometimes Covid is treated as a concern and sometimes it is not.

The fair was held Wednesday through Saturday at the Martinsville Speedway. A friend and I went on Friday, September 24th, shortly after it opened at 4 o’clock. The Valley Star Credit Union 300 was to be held the next day so the track itself was busy and loud until 6 o’clock. That gave us a couple of hours to kill before the shows started.

Infinity Acres Petting Zoo

Infinity Acres had a petting zoo set up on the lawn just off of the fair grounds. Handlers walked around with the llamas and I’ve seen photos of the camel actually touring the fair.

An Infinity Acres Llama

For 25ยข you could get a Dixie cup of food for the goats. Stand too close to them and they’ll pretty much each anything (like purses, camera bag straps, etc). They would stretch their necks out hopefully whenever anyone came close.

Hungry Goats
An Infinity Acres Camel

After the petting zoo, there was a tent of the typical judged entries – canned goods, quilts, art, crafts, etc. I got so absorbed in the variety of the entries that I completely forgot about my penchant for taking photos. That rarely happens.

We watched them setting up the soundstage.

Setting Up the Soundstage

There was a tent offering covid vaccines.

The Moderna Vaccination Tent

We bought some fried oreos and lemonade. I don’t think that my friend cared much for the fried oreos.

Fried Oreos and Lemonade

And we rode some rides.

Finally, 6 o’clock rolled around. The cars on the track stopped and the shows started.

The first show was the Great Lakes Timber Show. They demonstrated a lot of what you could see in competitive lumberjacking. In one of the first feats, they used a chain saw to quickly whip up a number of small chairs that they handed out to the audience.

Timber Lakes Show Hands Out Little Chairs Cut by Chainsaw

They called on an audience member and showed how incredibly quickly they could saw through a log.

An Audience Member Helped with the Two-Person Saw

And then another audience member was invited up to try to log roll.

An Audience Member Attempts to Log Roll

In the finale, one of the team got up and performed a fantastic log roll perfectly scripted for laughs.

Next up was Circus Shane’s Rock-N-Circus. He juggled. He did acrobatics. He invited kids up to be part of the act.

And then he jumped off a 65 foot platform. It was a very high-adrenaline show.

Circus Shane’s Jumps from 65 Feet Up

The last show was Josh Shilling and Mountain Heart. A Martinsville native, Josh and Mountain Heart put on a brilliant show. Josh is a local boy who went out and has made his way in the music world and there was a tangible excitement to hear him play for us. He and Mountain Heart did not disappoint. He is an excellent pianist and then he stood up and took up a guitar. Judging by the instruments, you know they played a little bluegrass.

Josh Shilling and Mountain Heart

By the end of the night, my camera was dying and we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The sequence of shows would start up again later in the evening. We kept waiting and hoping for crowds to show up but the turnout seemed meager compared to what we expected. I don’t know if there was some political drama that kept crowds away or if there was a fear of covid or something else entirely.

I do hope that they have the fair again next year. Although I failed to get any pictures inside the Exhibit Hall, both my friend and I are excited for next year and are thinking of what we do well enough to be able to enter. She’s got what it takes to enter several categories.

The Bassett Heritage Festival

Bassett is a beautiful community of around 1100 people to the north of Martinsville. It is very close to the Henry County access to Philpott Lake and the Smith River flows through the heart of the downtown area. Papa’s Pizza has a prime position right on the Smith River and has a beautiful stone patio overlooking the water. They serve a mean calzone and absolutely humongous cupcakes. The new Railway Cafe has good food and live music on the patio. The river is stocked with trout.

By all rights, Bassett should be a popular tourist spot dotted with B & B’s, fly shops, and artist studios. But it’s not. At least, not right now.

There was a very good book by Beth Macy called Factory Man that recounts the near demise of furniture making in Bassett due to outsourcing a couple of decades ago. Tom Hanks had bought the rights to turn it into an HBO mini-series several years ago but nothing ever came of it, as far as I know. But all of that is ancient history and history can’t be changed.

Bassett has seemed to me like Brigadoon sitting up there in the mists waiting for true love to break the spell. (If you don’t get the archaic reference, Brigadoon was a 1954 musical with Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, and Cyd Charisse about a village in the highlands of Scotland embattled by witches so the local minister found a way to protect the village by asking God to put a spell on it. Every night, when they fell to sleep, a hundred years would go by. Gene Kelly and Van Johnson run across it by accident on the one day that the village wakes up and can be found. When Gene and Syd meet … well, you can take it from there).

Railway Cafe

And there have been signs of life from Bassett recently. The Railway Cafe opened up within the past year or two and they regularly have live music on a beautiful patio across the street from the historic train depot. That may sound like small potatoes but that’s something.

It sits in an adorable little shopping strip with a lot of still empty storefronts. With any luck, I’ll take a picture in the next couple of years and these storefronts will all be filled. Salons, boutiques, shops of any sort …

Storefronts Next to the Historic Train Depot

Very recently, they redid the historic train depot as a venue rental. It is now the Bassett Train Station Event Center. I had gone up to see it before but it was not open to be toured. When I heard that it would be open for the Bassett Heritage Festival, I had to go.

Inside the Bassett Train Station Event Center

They have really outdone themselves. On one end, they have a multi-media conference room set up. On the other end, they have a beautiful banquet hall with a stage at the far end. Someone was still busy mopping the stage as I was visiting, so the shot below is the best I have of the stage.

Facing the Stage in the Banquet Hall Section of the Event Center

The venue is perfect for any large event and the history of Bassett is front and center on the wall that divides the banquet hall and the conference room.

Timeline for the Bassett Train Station Event Center

In the 1880’s the Bassett family started a lumber mill…

It’s a little unfair that I understand the significance of the humbleness of the beginning when I’m presenting Bassett as such a small community now. It’s too much to go into here but you do know Bassett. There is very probably a Bassett Furniture store somewhere not too far from you if you live in the U.S. There are 100 dedicated Bassett retail locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The corporate headquarters is still here, across the street from the Train Station.

In the 1880’s the Bassett family started a lumber mill…

But my focus is on today. Or, rather, on September 11, 2021, the day of the Bassett Heritage Festival. The festival was held across the railroads tracks in the lot behind the Well Fargo building.

Looking Up Fairystone Park Highway From the Train Station

As small town festivals around here go, the Bassett Heritage Festival is worth a trip. Though small, it had a lot going on.

The Stanleytown Family Ruritans were serving a pancake breakfast. (Stanleytown is another small community that sits on (or near) Bassett’s southern border.)

Pancake Breakfast by the Stanleytown Ruritan

The Southern Gentlemen Band played live music.

The Southern Gentlemen Played Bluegrass

And the proportion of the tent vendors selling handmade wares is high. Very high, actually. I ended up spending quite a bit of money at the festival and I really was trying to behave.

Good Selection of Things to Buy

One of my best finds was Charm Cat. Charm Cat’s booth had a huge selection of cards for different occasions, including blank ones, all drawn and painted by a local artist, Ashleigh Pritchard. She has a very good website and sells online “Pretty Paper Things for Pretty Funny People”.

Charm Cat’s Display

I was pleased to meet author Nancy Naigle, a new resident of Patrick Springs who happily found her way to the festival. She is a talented author and has had several of her novels translated into Halllmark movies. She’s on the left holding a copy of “A Heartfelt Christmas Promise”. That’s right. Christmas romances. Move over Debbie Macomber. I’m currently reading the book I purchased there, “Hope at Christmas”, and thoroughly enjoying it. If you are a fan of the genre, I highly recommend it.

Meeting Nancy Naigle

There were a lot of hand made decorations, pretty and funny – some both.

Handmade Crafts

I was glad to attend the Bassett Heritage Festival this year and am looking forward to next year.

I hope you are enjoying your fall season.

Fall Crafts

If you are interested in Bassett as a community, I encourage you to check out the real estate there. Though these things can change on a dime, real estate there is still relatively inexpensive right now. The screen shot below is a snapshot in time showing the four most expensive properties currently on the market. I sometimes am amazed that Bassett is not bustling with river nuts and artists. It is a beautiful place.

Top Real Estate Available on 10/12/21

Maybe someone put a spell on it. You think?

Kayak Quest Completed? Smith River Festival

It took me forty-five minutes to tie my new-to-me kayak to my car the morning of the Smith River Festival. But I did it. I got it attached to my car, got myself to the festival, had a WONDERFUL day, and got myself home in one piece.

The Smith River Festival is an annual festival here, held at the Smith River Sports Complex. It runs 10 to 4 and is packed with activities. There’s the Helgramite 5K Mud Run, a river race, free tubes provided for tubing, free shuttles for tubes and kayaks, a demo pool for trying out different kinds of kayaks or SUPs, a petting zoo, a yoga class, a beer garden, live music, and activities for kids to include bikes to ride, a climbing tower, and a bounce house. And then there’s a rubber duck race that I keep missing.

Parking Around 9:30 AM

Timing is everything with the Smith River Festival. If you have a kayak, you can drive down to the river to drop it off and then park. If you are early enough, you can park close by. Otherwise you end up parking further and further away. By late morning, you have to park over by the soccer fields and take a shuttle to the festival.

Live Music Pavilion (left) Beer Garden (right)

I am always early. I arrived around 9:30, dropped off my kayak, and was able to park in the first row away from the demo pool . The down side to being early is that the festival itself – the tents, the music, even the bounce house – were still being set up.

Snow Cones, Climbing Tower, Bounce House Inflated, Chain of Fools Bicycle Tent Manned

I puttered around awhile and took some photos. It’s kind of nice to see a festival start taking shape.

Bikes to Ride

There were so many activities. Tons. They really excelled at providing things to do.

One thing this is not is an artisan fare. There were military recruiters, some political tents, various organizations that wanted to get the word out about programs they had. There were a few individuals selling things that they had made, but not many. It’s not really that kind of festival. I was pleased to see our local bike shop, Chain of Fools, in attendance. As the weather cools off, I’ll stop by there for a post of its own.

Food Court

There was one tent that really stood out though. That was largely because they would take a huge monitor lizard (wearing a cowboy hat) out for a walk or they would wrangle a rather large reticulating python.

Officer Clark Wrangling a Reticulating Python

Animal Control Officer Clark has been “in the news” (on Facebook) for rescuing a stray cat and fostering it for the Martinsville Henry County SPCA until a home can be found. Animals seem to really like him and this python was no exception. Every time they set it down, it sought him out.

Cooling Off the Reticulating Python

They dipped the python in water to keep it cool. In the picture above, you can see that it still was making its way to Officer Clark. I think that they did a good job with the snakes. They were very careful about controlling their temperatures. In the picture below, they were taking the temperature of a jungle python.

This Jungle Python is Getting a Temperature Check

But the real focus of Smith River Festival is the river. And about all the ways that you can enjoy the river. The Dan River Basin Association had a fantastic demo pool set up for trying different types of kayaks and paddle boards.

Brian Williams at the Demo Pool

I finally got to try a sit-on-top kayak. Wouldn’t you know that it was a Liquidlogic. Dare I say that I’m in love again? The Liquidlogic Coupe XP runs $869 on their website right now. This is, at least, still less expensive than the others I’ve fallen in love with so far. However, the website says that it’s on backorder now.

One of the Demo Kayaks: A Liquidlogic Coupe

The Helgramite Mud Run started at 11. I was anxious to get into the water but I really wanted to see the Mud Run get underway.

The Line-up for the Helgramite Mud Run

I got a good vantage point next to the starting line. All the runners shoes looked beautiful. Mine, I wear once and they look like I’ve been using them as yard shoes. They assured me that, no, they were old shoes. One racer even had his duct-taped to his feet.

A Clever Runner in the Helgramite Mud Run

The first pit is right at the start and it was fun to watch all those people lunge through the pit. I took over a dozen pictures (easily) and the rest are on the blog’s Facebook page.

The First Mud Pit in the 2021 Helgramite Mud Run

Then it was time for what I had come for. I had a choice to go down a stretch that I had done before or go down a part that was new to me. The shuttle was free and would pick me up at the next launch down or even the one after that, if I wanted. I did want to. But, even at 11, there weren’t that many people lining up for a shuttle or on the water and I was worried about doing something new on water I didn’t know – by myself. It would probably be okay but I’m not a “probably” kind of person when it comes to drowning.

I chose the South Martinsville back to the Complex stretch. I thought I “knew” it.

That’s Rives Road Crossing the River Ahead

I never regret time on the water and I was a fool to think that I knew this stretch. I had been down this run last year, when the water was so high that it was close to being too high for kayakers of my skill level to ride. I’m not going to see any rapids to speak of on this, I thought.

Right After Rives Road

I ate my words quickly. There were rapids right after Rives Road. I watched two kayakers in front of me. The first went through on the left and motioned to the second, who blew off the instructions and went through the middle.

I approached. Tacked for the left. Got right up on it and frantically paddled out of it. I went through the middle and realized that I had underestimated this stretch. I forgot that the water had been very low until just recently. There were actually fewer rapids when the water was higher.

It doesn’t look that bad now, does it?

The rapids made the trip all the more interesting and enjoyable. I am getting braver with my camera too. Once through the rapids, several times I pulled back up to the rocks to get some close ups of the water rushing through. Only once did my camera get doused. But it survived.

Note the Tuber Approaching the Rapids

Unlike when I was on the river before, I passed by a lot of people. Some in tubes. Some in kayaks. Some forming chains four, five, or six kayaks across, just drifting with the current and enjoying their company.

I just love this shot

There’s a spot not far from the complex where you can see the Dick & Willie Passage Rail Trail following along the river. By this time, I was chatting with another couple of kayakers and one told me that they actually had to blast some rock here to make the path through.

One of the Few Places Where You Can See the Dick & Willie Trail from the River

And then, before I knew it, I was back at the complex. I could have kept going and I probably should have since there were so many people on the water now. But it had finally dawned on me that I was going to have to repeat my feat of getting the kayak back on top of the car before I could get home. It was now 2, the festival ended at 4, and I hadn’t had a chance to have a beer in the beer garden and relax.

The Finish Line

In retrospect, I do wish that I had continued. For one thing, maybe I wouldn’t have forgotten about the rubber duck race.

I guess that’s what next year is for.