C. B. Bryant
“Charles B. Bryant was one of the most brilliant men and unique characters that ever lived in Henry County.” That was according to Virginia and Lewis Pedigo in their book, History of Patrick and Henry Counties Virginia published in 1933. C. B. Bryant was born in 1842 and married Malinda, the daughter of George Waller, in 1865. Waller was one of the first settlers in Henry County. He lived by the river in what is now Fieldale. Malinda and C. B. did not have children. Around 1900 they built the house that is now the home of Piedmont Arts on Starling Avenue.
Although Bryant did not go to college, he studied civil engineering and later after studying law, was admitted to the bar. When the Civil War broke out he was one of the first to go to the front. He enlisted in the Virginia Militia and was made a colonel. During the war, he left the Militia as he was elected Clerk of the Henry County Circuit Courts. Later he was made Commissioner of Accounts. These were the days before typewriters, so all the records had to be handwritten. Bryant was an expert penman. There are still records in the Clerk’s office that show his beautiful handwriting. After leaving that position, he filled a position as clerk in the Interior Department at Washington D C.
In 1881 he was elected Mayor of Martinsville. He was known for having an unusually alert mind and wit. According to Judith Parks America Hill in her book, A History of Henry County, Virginia, written in 1925, Col Bryant “was a very efficient officer, and the town never had a more enthusiastic booster and promoter of expansion.” He had little means himself, but he had the ability to “make plans so plain and plausible to others, that he easily elicited capital in many enterprises that meant for the town’s prosperity.”
“He was the engineer and diplomatic negotiator of the town’s water-rights and system. He was very instrumental in the establishment of the two railroad lines that transversed Henry County.” Hill writes, “He was a man of erect carriage, mentally alert, cordial in greeting, conservative in advising, calm in temperament, and a pleasant companion. He was a true patriot, a faithful friend, a good neighbor, and bore an air that was impressive and a wit that rarely failed him.”
Col. Bryant was a skilled civil engineer to which he gave most of his time during the last years of his life according to his obituary. His surveying instrument and tripod are on display in the Heritage Center & Museum.
In Virginia Windle’s book, The Way It Was In Henry County and Martinsville, Virginia, written in 1996, there is a chapter titled “Officials’ Human Side Reflected in Stories”. Windle related an amusing story about Col. Bryant. When he was en route to court, “seems he was under the influence that morning and fell off one of the stepping stones and into a big mud puddle. He made it to the courtroom and presided over the court session wearing his white suit with red mud.”
Few people know about Col. Bryant and his contributions to our community. Perhaps by being aware of his accomplishments, we can add his name to our list of important people who shaped our community.
When the village of Martinsville was incorporated in 1791, a charter was written. Apparently, the citizens had not taken the time to read the section on electing a mayor. For year after year, the mayor was elected by direct vote of the people. When there was a close election, the attorneys decided to read the charter. It was then discovered that there had not been a lawful election of the mayor for several years. The charter stated that the voters should elect a council to be composed of nine members and that the council should elect one of their own members as mayor. Martinsville has been doing so ever since.
Virginia R. King
Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society