Reporter: Ellie Mahan
August 4, 2022
The anniversary of the placement of a bench at Brazos Street and Washington Avenue in downtown Whitney, the site of the 1949 Battle of The Benches, was marked Saturday, July 30.
New Mayor Jerry Barker, descendants of the original bench sitters and members of a local antique car club joined a celebration of the historic site Saturday morning.
Attendees listened to 1920’s music, ate birthday cake and listened to an overview of the bench’s historical significance.
Anne Chastain, owner of Juniper Cove Winery, organized the bench’s birthday celebration. Chastain explained the bench’s history and stated, “Whitney’s history is very important to our town. It reaches into our character. It shows a lot about family, and that is what we’re here to talk about.”
The tale of the Battle of the Benches, which was published in Life Magazine, is one many Whitney residents know. Old timers sat on their beloved bench, whittling, spitting and passing judgment on everything that passed. In downtown Whitney, the bench was located across the street from what was at that time the newly opened Whitney Clinic and Hospital. Women of the town were frustrated by the men sitting on the bench and would go out of their way to avoid the old timers.
In response to complaints, Whitney’s mayor in 1949, Fred Basham, removed the bench, which started the battle that ultimately ended with the old timers getting their bench back. A bench is still in place at the site and was refurbished in August 2021. Read more about the history of the Battle of the Benches in the “Looking Back” Column (page 6).
Chastain also read a piece of writing submitted to her by the grandson of Fred Basham. The writing attests that there may be another side to the story of the Battle of The Benches. Chastain read Basham’s grandson’s perspective and acknowledged that it may be folklore…
It read: “The mayor in Whitney was Fred Basham, my grandfather. He was a World War II veteran and was an integral part of the building of Lake Whitney. The Battle of the Benches was a total gag cooked up by my grandfather and Paul Crume, who was a reporter and later longtime columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Mr. Crume had a connection at Life Magazine, and my grandad wanted to bring attention to Whitney and the soon-to-be new lake, Lake Whitney. They played up the story for all that it was worth.”
“The main thing was everyone had a great time, and my granddad brought some national attention to the City of Whitney. Shortly after the Battle of the Benches, he reinlisted in the Air Force and went on to have a storied career, retiring as a decorated World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran. He is now buried in the Bethlehem Cemetery here in Whitney.”
Chastain finished, “Whether that is true or not, we have folklore in our town, and what you’re going to be seeing over the next several years is more and more history of the City of Whitney coming out because that is part of our character and our history.”
She encouraged attendees to visit the Whitney Area Museum, which is open on Saturdays, for more information on Whitney’s history.