Battle of the Benches

Southwest corner of Brazos Street and Washington Avenue, Whitney, Texas

On August 15, 1949 Life Magazine ran pictures and a story on the "Battle of the Benches" that took place in Whitney.  Once the magazine hit the stands, and other newspapers followed with their own stories, anyone not familiar with the town now knew about this small town that was preparing to build a large lake.

Bench Sitters in 1927
  Bench sitters, 1927

The story started back in 1922 when D. ("Doctor Dee") Scarborough, the druggist in Whitney, put a bench on Brazos Street outside his store.  Within a short period of time the bench became headquarters for loafers and gossips. The old timers would sit and pass the time by keeping up on the town’s most important happenings.  The men were compared to "irritable terrapins [more] who year after year sat there looking like a jury; whittling, spitting and passing judgment on everything that passed."

The trouble began after Whitney Clinic and Hospital opened across the street from the sittin’, spittin’, swearin’ and whittlin’ men. The women of the town became enraged with this situation and called on Fred Basham who was the mayor at the time.  One of the women, Mrs. T. E. Bagley, told the mayor, "Why, they must spit two or three gallons a day! They ain't died fast enough, these old men!"  Women would go out of their way to purposely avoid the old timers on the bench.

Whitney Bench Removed

Mayor Basham took all of the wishes of the women in Whitney into consideration and removed the bench. The old timers were immediately offended and came back with a counter attack – they each came down the street with nail kegs in their hands to replace their bench.

Kegs for Seats

City police threatened to confiscate the kegs.  This only served to make the old men angrier and they got up a petition which 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, Life Magazine appeared in town to cover the event. Newspapers from all over Texas were following the story and many concerned people were writing in and expressing their opinions.  Everyone outside of Whitney seemed to be in favor of giving the old timers their bench back.

Mr. Clifton Dibble of Portland, Oregon contributed a campaign song for the men:

"That Old Cedar Bench"

Three cheers for the Whitney Grandpas!
And their right to sit and whittle,
For who are we to tell them
Where they should aim their spittle.
For, only the body is weary,
Listen:  "Say Ma, what’s in the kittle?"

For didn’t they found your city –
Bounce most of you on their knees?
But now, in their early winter,
You turn deaf ears to their pleas.
And, how would you do without them
On the bench ‘neath those sweetgum trees!

Oh, we’ll cherish that old cedar bench
In the shade of those sweetgum trees.
And maybe a game of horseshoes
Or, mumbly peg [more], if you please!
Yes, we’ll cherish that old cedar bench
In the shade of the sweetgum trees,
For to us it’s a hallowed old treasure,
Our treasure of memories.

The radio station KHBR in Hillsboro had a representative in Whitney interviewing the old timers.  They were allowed to present their arguments for radio broadcasting.

Bench Returns

On July 30, 1949 the women and mayor were defeated by a vote of 124 to 67 in favor of returning the bench. On election afternoon, the confident old timers lugged the bench back even before official returns were announced.  With the bench back in place, the old men resumed life as usual … whittlin’, spittin’, and passin’ judgment just as they had done for the prior 27 years.

Mayor Basham survived the criticism and lived to be an "old man" himself. Even though Basham removed the benches, he later said "Deep down inside, I was for them.  I knew I was going to be old one day, too."

The benches have been refurbished, and all are welcome to have a seat themselves, where history was made. They are on the southwest corner of Brazos Street and Washington Avenue in downtown Whitney.  


True Texas Tales of the People, Places, and Events of Hill County, Texas