Burton Cotton Gin
In a stroke of genius, my husband came up with a Valentine’s Day trip that combined two of my favorite things, nature and textiles. First we went hiking at Lake Somerville State Park, and then we took a tour of the Burton Cotton Gin.
The gin was owned by the farmers’ cooperative in Burton, where most of the farmers were of German heritage, and owned farms of about 50 acres. The gin opened in 1914, and it ginned its last bales in 1974. Only 12 years later, a passing tourist took an interest in the place and alerted the Smithsonian Institution, and the process of turning it into a museum began.
My favorite thing about the museum is that they haven’t prettied up the gin. Everything is right where the workers left it at the end of the 1974 season. You walk up stairs that were built in 1914, past the original machinery.
Back in its heyday, you would drive your wagon up to the gin, where your cotton would be sucked out with a giant vacuum cleaner.
Processing 1500 pounds of raw cotton into a 500 pound bale took only 12 minutes! (The thousand pounds of seed and trash was separated for other uses.)
See that little red tag on the strap? It has a unique number that can be traced back to the gin and the farmer. A clear chain of supply is not a new idea!
There is an excellent virtual tour of the museum at the link above, that explains all the steps.
The tour goes mostly through the logistics and mechanics of ginning; it does not go into any issues such as sharecropping, boll weevils and eradication attempts, etc., but one tour can’t be all things to all people. They do have a good selection of books in the gift store for those who want more depth. One I have read before is From Can See to Can’t: Texas Cotton Farmers on the Southern Prairies, and the scholarly book I bought on this trip is Cotton and Conquest: How the Plantation System Acquired Texas. (Although now that I read this review, I am thinking I should have bought a different book.) I also got some used books they had for sale — The Rise and Fall of King Cotton, which is a BBC book from 1984, and a kids’ book, Up Before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America. So I have hours of interesting reading ahead of me!