Dockery Farms, number three in the Delta regional poll for the 101 Places in Mississippi to see before you die, was established in 1895 “to produce cotton, America’s biggest export at the time” (DockeryFarms.org). Located on Highway 8 between Cleveland and Ruleville, the Dockery Farms
…complex consists of 8 buildings and 1 structure that were designed and built by Will Dockery and his farm workers in the 1920s and 30s. In addition, there is one site of 1 ruin. All of these buildings constitute a unique site that is original with minimum repairs performed by farm workers over the years. The Dockery Farms location is a fine example of Mississippi plantation early twentieth century agricultural buildings designed and built by a landowner and his workers. The sign on the Seed House is a well-known symbol associated with the origins of American blues music. (William Lester, 2005, in the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places)
The Seed House, circa 1930 is constructed of cypress, and roofed with corrugated tin (Lester, 2005). Cotton seed was stored in the building. Wagons or trucks could drive into the bay and eight trap doors in the second floor opened to release cotton seed into the wagon or truck.
The cotton gin, also circa 1930, has steel frame construction on a concrete foundation, with corrugated tin siding and roof (Lester, 2005). It is connected to the Seed House by the pipe that functioned to deliver the de-linted cotton seed for storage.
A mule shed/hay barn, circa 1925, is behind the Seed House. It is a cypress board-and-batten construction with a center door in the south and north sides, and open sides to provide ventilation.
The cotton storage shed, circa 1925, sits on the south bank of the Sunflower River. Cotton bales were stored in the shed prior to shipping. Like the other buildings, it is constructed of cypress wood with corrugated tin roof. The Murray Company sign is original (Lester, 2005) and the gin equipment is located inside the cotton gin. The Murray Model 90 combing lint cleaners and the Minneapolis-Moline power plant are non-functional, but original (Lester, 2005).
The Ruffin Scott house (circa 1930) is wood construction with asphalt siding with brick design, and has a corrugated tin roof (Lester, 2005). Scott was a carpenter at Dockery, and the last person to live in the house. The house, which remains original, has pine wood floors and wood plank walls and ceilings.
This cypress board-and-batten circa 1925 shed served as fertilizer storage (Lester, 2005).
The mule water trough, circa 1930, retains its original cast iron hand water pump (Lester, 2005). The steel turnbuckles that edge the concrete walls were made in the blacksmith’s shop on the farm. The trough was used by local black churches for baptisms. The ruins of the old commissary (circa 1895-1900) are visible under the tree across the road.
The service station/store, circa 1935, contained the general farm office and Joe Rice Dockery’s private office (Lester, 2005). It retains its original glass front counters, and a scale (meat scale?) is visible through one of the front windows.
Dockery Farms is the quintessential Delta plantation…Unlike many plantations of that day, Dockery Farms did not rely on sharecropping, but rather paid its laborers…Under Joe Rice Dockery’s leadership, the Farms organized an insurance and burial association for laborers, and even provided vaccination against endemic Delta diseases. The Farms also gain a reputation for dealing fairly and honestly with both Black and White workingmen, and helped many save enough money to begin farming on their own elsewhere. (Luther Brown, 2002, Dockery Farms Case Summary, as cited in Lester, 2005)
Check out the Delta Blues at Dockery Farms, and listen to the music of Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Pops Staples, and Honeyboy Edwards. As B. B. King said, “…You might say it all started right here.”