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!
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!! What a great day! My understanding is the cotton bales are still marked for specific origin, but it’s cool to know that is not a new idea.
Reblogging this interesting post. THANKS!
Reblogged this on Catbird Quilt Studio and commented:
The Textile Ranger is one of my favorite bloggers — she loves textile history and knows WAY more than I do. Check out this fun post showing a cotton gin tour she took. The gin has been closed for 40+ years and now is run as a museum. If you like what you see, follow her for more.
This is outstanding.
It is a very interesting place to go! Not your “run-of-the-mill” tourist attraction! 🙂
Your husband sure knows how to make you happy! What a perfect day he arranged for you!
That’s some big bale. Industrial cities like Detroit come to mind as bygone engines of economic growth, yet we forget king cotton which shaped southern economy and society for well over a century.
They told us at the museum that the size of the bale was regulated, but not the weight! That was surprising to me.
Cotton is still a very important crop in Texas, mostly in the Panhandle, but it is still grown south of Houston too. It has had deadly side effects in a lot of respects, but I guess you could say that about just about any industry.
That husband of yours comes up with some really great ideas. This one is surely near the top of the list. So glad they left it as is instead of “prettying it up”.
Yes, every now and then he can set aside his endless project list and have a fun day!
Great Valentine’s trip! – I’d appreciate that sort of thing too! From your pics it’s an impressive place – sizeable machinery, but I guess with so much cotton production locally it would have worked very hard – and 12 minute to produce a 500 pound bale – that’s some speed! How nice that the building has been saved.
hmm, guess I made a comment and it got lost in space…I think that book and the mill should be on a school learning tour…….
I bet it is, in that little town. When we lived in Sugar Land, our kids went on field trips to the Imperial Holly sugar mill in third grade — they just had to walk down the block! Now it is closed and part of it is a museum too.
Your post brings back memories of when my brother and I lived in Cunningham, Tx. He was pastor of the small church there and often would help out at the cotton gin. Sounds like your hubby took you on a wonderful trip.
Wow, I just looked at it on Google Earth. That is a tiny town! I haven’t been up that way for a long time, but it looks like there would be some fun things to do, in Paris and at the lakes and rivers.
Yes, Paris was a neat town also. I worked there n lived out in Cuningham. It was my first experience of living in a community where the cotton gin office also served as post office and general store. Great memories for sure.