Editor: Shannon Cottongame
August 4, 2021
An event recalling Whitney’s 1949 “Battle of the Benches” has been scheduled from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, August 14, on Brazos Street between Washington Avenue and Railroad Street in downtown Whitney.
Anne Chastain, who now operates Juniper Cove Winery at the location of the original Battle of the Benches, is refurbishing the current bench at the corner of Brazos Street and Washington Avenue in downtown Whitney.
The event will be a rededication of the bench at the site, along with a community celebration, photo opportunities, a street dance, a senior sit-in, and people’s choice voting on benches decorated by local businesses.
A complete schedule of events will be featured in next week’s edition of The Lakelander, and more information is also available at http://battleofthebench.com.
Any descendants of the “bench sitters” featured in the 1949 Life Magazine article are invited to contact Chastain to participate in a planned photo of descendants sitting on the bench.
Businesses in the 76692 zip code that would like to enter the bench decorating contest may also visit the website or contact Chastain.
She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-266-5351.
History of the Battle
of the Benches
While most locals are quite familiar with the story, it is worth telling again for newcomers or younger residents who may not have heard about it.
The story started in 1922 when D. Scarborough, the druggist in Whitney, put a bench on Brazos Street outside his store. The local men would sit, visit and discuss the latest news in town.
When Whitney’s hospital and clinic opened across the street from the bench, the ladies in town were unhappy with the men sitting on the bench “whittling, spitting and passing judgment on everything that passed.”
As Time Magazine reported on August 8, 1949, “Whiskery old gaffers from all over the Brazos Valley used it as a refuge from the sun and females; comfortably installed on its well-worn planks, they whittled, spat magnificent streams of tobacco juice on the sidewalks, studied the weather and damned the modern world with lordliness and venom.”
The women of Whitney called on Mayor Fred Basham to remove the bench. One of the women, Mrs. T. E. Bagley, was quoted as saying: “Why, they must spit two or three gallons a day! They ain’t died fast enough, these old men!”
Mayor Basham removed the bench, but the men were determined and came back with nail kegs to continue their spitting and sitting. Whitney police then threatened to confiscate the kegs, and the men started a petition that forced the mayor to call for a special election to determine if the bench should be restored.
On July 30, the day of the election, many news outlets were following the story, and many readers outside of Whitney seemed to be in favor of allowing the men to have their bench back.
The oldest bench sitter at the time, 97-year-old Tom Rose, was quoted in Life Magazine as commenting, “What do they expect us to do? Go hide in the woods?”
Ultimately, the ladies in town were defeated by a vote of 124 to 67, and the men began moving the bench back even before official returns were announced.