Galax is an independent city that straddles the border of Grayson and Carroll counties
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
J. P. Carico was a local horse and mule trader who saw the potential of creating a new town in the Blue Ridge, after the Norfolk and Western extended its Cripple Creek Extension to the top of the ridge with plans to build a connection to Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The track up Chestnut Creek first reached Blair (modern-day Cliffview), and was then extended further.
The original name for the site in 1905 was Bonaparte. According to local lore, a railroad official saw a wagon filled with galax and suggested it should be the basis for the town's name. Galax is an evergreen plant that local residents collected and shipped by railroad to cities, where florists incorporated it into displays and Christmas decorations. When the town was formally incorporated in 1906, it was called Galax. After expanding the municipal boundaries, it was rechartered by the General Assembly as a city in 1954 with 5,237 residents.
The Vaughan-Bassett factories and various other companies produced furniture at Galax, as the region became an industrial center. Burlington Mills, Hanes, ad other textile companies built mills. Another local factory placed silver on the back of glass to manufacture mirrors, and the Galax Mirror Company made mirrors for use within bedroom sets produced at local furniture factories.
In addition, the Carnation Company build a milk condensing plant in 1937, processing milk from dairy farms in Grayson and Carroll counties.1
Industrial decline in Galax was finalized by low-cost competitors in Asia. Bassett Furniture Industries employed 10,000 workers in the 1980's, but closed factories and cut employment dramatically. Textile plants closed at the same time as furniture plants, as goods were imported rather than manufactured in the United States where wages, health care costs, and environmental compliance requirements were higher.
Galax was an outlier, maintaining factory jobs at the Vaughan-Bassett factory. By 2011, it was the largest remaining wood bedroom manufacturer in the United States.
The owner, one of the Bassett family, won a case against China for "dumping" products at excessively-low prices to destroy American competition. His case was strengthened after finding a factory in China which was shipping dressers to the United States and charging less than the cost of production, where the manager said:2
Galax is also distinctive for its history of school desegregation. In 1960, Grayson County residents could attend the city high school in Galax, under a 20-year agreement with the city.
In September, 1960, a judge ruled that eight African-American students from the county had to be admitted. The students had been taking a bus from the Old Town neighborhood just outside the city limits to an all-black school in Wytheville, 45 minutes away.
The city chose instead to cancel the agreement. Blocking 300 county students from attending Galax High School would maintain the all-white student body.
The announcement on a Friday disrupted expectations for the new semester dramatically. 590 out of 598 high school students signed petitions to keep the county students in Galax High School, and county residents threatened to stop shopping within the city. Local ministers united in their endorsement of maintaining access for county students and mobilized community support, knowing that the result would be desegregation in Galax High School.
On Monday, a Federal judge in Baltimore, Maryland issued an order that required the city to continue allowing county students to attend, and to allow the African-American students to join them. With all deliberate speed, Galax High School was desegregated on Tuesday.3
African-American students from Oldtown in Grayson County forced desegregation of Galax High School in 1960
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
galax is a common plant in the Blue Ridge
Source: beetleweed (Galax urceolata)
galax in bloom