Going Inside: Cotton Warehouse, c.1940

It’s that time of year when the cotton has been brought in from the fields, which now look a bit bereft and battered. Cotton warehouses are scattered all over the state (last time I was in Holly Springs, the massive Federal Compress warehouses were slated for demolition–has that happened by now?) This is how the insides of many of those warehouses would have looked back in the middle part of the 20th century. Fire was a constant source of anxiety, with all those cotton fibers floating around waiting for a spark or a cigarette or whatnot–notice the large signs showing where the fire plugs are located. I think, but am not sure, that the line running above the right-hand trusses, is the clerestory that allowed light into these vast spaces. At this point, these bales are ginned and cleaned, and perhaps (?) already graded by quality. We await an expert’s opinion on that last part.


Nowadays, though, “brought in” probably isn’t the best phrase, since the round bales (sometimes rectangular) sit out in the fields waiting to be picked up. I hope someone who knows about the modern processing of cotton can tell us what these bales represent. Are the harvesters producing these? Are they already ginned at this point and merely waiting for transportation to a textile mill? Or are they just picked and baled here and still in need of ginning and other post-harvesting processing?

Cotton Bales in the Fields

Categories: Historic Preservation, Urban/Rural Issues


11 replies

  1. EL, you’re going to need Remedial Cotton 101. That will require a trip to Greenwood and a couple of onsite tours. Meals included. Bring friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I recall watching cotton being ginned at the Potts Gin Company in Crawford back in the late 1950s. The cotton bales on the gin yard were transported to the cotton compress in Columbus to be reduce in volume before being loaded onto the M&O RR cars. My father had stored some cotton in an old abandoned tenant house on our farm before sending it to the gin. I remember my father questioning me and my numerous cousins if anyone had been “smoking” atop the cotton stored there. The tenant house was a perfect hideaway from the prying eyes of our parents. There was a fire at the gin and it was discovered that “strike anywhere” matches were found in the cotton from our farm. I was not the guilty party, but I knew the “usual suspects” that did such. Our dairy farm had a cotton acreage allotment of only ten acres.

    Rufus Ward speaks:

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  3. Back in the day, if you lived in the Delta, when your cotton planter friends asked, “How you doing?”, if you were OK, the answer was, “Fair to Middling and you?” I was not born and raised in the Delta. Moved there in 1970, so I had no idea what they were saying or what it meant. Middling is the middle grade of cotton. Fair to Middling was a great answer :) Hope everyone in MissPreservaton Land has a Fair to Middlin’ day!

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    • The Potts Gin Company was owned by three brothers Swenton, Burt and Fred. Burton was the inhouse cotton broker with an office located on Main street Crawford, just a block from the gin. His offices were located in the old abandoned “coffin house.” My first memory of Crawford is walking by the “coffin house” and seeing wooden coffins in different stages of construction in the shop area. It appeared that one day the doors were shut and everyone walked away. There is now a “dope den” located on the site. I think that Swenton Potts made a $1,000,000 donation to Ole Miss back the early 1960s. I cannot confirm that, but that was the local scuttlebutt.


  4. The round bales, just like the rectangular bales, are headed to the gin. Here are a few photos from the cotton harvest at Lakeport (AR). I love how the trucks back into and pick up the rectangular bales. https://goo.gl/photos/jgsRkW55C6GieJ3E7

    At the gin, the cotton is warmed and blades separate the cotton lint from the seeds. 500 lb bales are produced, tagged, and sent to a warehouse. Here are pictures of cotton being ginned at the Epstein Cotton Gin (Lake Village, AR). The Epstein gin has been in operation since about 1917; the equipment (I’d guess, is late 1960s). https://goo.gl/photos/2D7PRxm54nEpdYiR8

    For more information on Sam Epstein, read this http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=8097

    Liked by 2 people

  5. As a child growing up on a MS Delta farm, ginning time was special to us. Going to the gin with daddy when he was either taking a trailer of cotton or picking one up meant a “night time” ride for us. I can remember getting in a trailer and riding (just holding on to it) the gin suction pipe while it sucked the cotton from the trailer. The smell of cotton gins in the Delta night is something that is slowly dieing away. But the memories for us are not.


  6. Grand Boulevard in Greenwood was a main route from the plantations north of town to the gins south of town; the trucks coming down the Boulevard would scatter cotton all up and down the street and we would gather it up at Bankston Elementary for various recess projects. That distinctive smell from the gossypol gland always reminds me of those times. And as far as smoke and fire, I watched Staple Cotton’s downtown classing building burn during a snowy night in 1971; the burning bales were exploding out of the warehouse and landing on roofs blocks away. It’s a tribute to the Greenwood Fire Department that downtown wasn’t lost that night. Cotton on fire is terrifying and almost impossible to control.


  7. Growing up in Noxubee county, I remember falls full of cotton and the busy-ness around the gin there which is now gone. My daddy worked at the gin one fall in the evenings and we got to see the working up close–fascinating. Now I pick up a boll or two each fall and bring back to Kentucky to show my students. They don’t know anything about cotton and are fascinated with the pictures of cotton wagons and learning about how their jeans and t-shirts start out as fuzzy white puffs with sticky seeds and through many processes wind up in their closets. Love being about to find out what’s going on “back home” in the way of preservation.


    • The enterprising, Hi-Tech Mennonites have transformed Noxubee county since you left, making it again into a breadbasket. There is a now the hi-tech Bogue Chitto cotton gin. There is a grain processing plant that supplies the State’s poultry and catfish industries. Superior Catfish markets its pond raised catfish as far as Texas and Louisiana. Sadly, though, Mennonites do not share our ancestral memories of “what was once was” and those architectural icons that you might have remembered have been bulldozed away, along with the bois d’ arc– laced fence rows and tenament shacks from the 30s and 40s. The Mennonites with their land leveling planes are transforming the rolling Black Prairie into a Kansas/Delta–like flatland, fit for large scale irrigation farming. And you probably won’t ever see a dairy milk cow–the Kraft Cheese plant in Brooksville was converted into a chicken de-boning plant and the Bordens cream plant in Macon still stands empty.


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