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The Cotton Trade

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These late 1800's photographs show bales and bales of cotton, examples of many cotton sales or auctions which were held in the open area, which for many years was called "The Plaza". It is now known as the Confederate Memorial Park in honor of the Confederate Monument which was erected in 1921. The area is still often referred to as "The Plaza" by older Marianna folks.

The land in Jackson County and the surrounding areas was then, as is still today, very good cotton producing land, and Marianna was a good cotton market.

When the cotton bales were ready for shipment after the sale, they would have been loaded on wagons and moved south down the hill to the railroad station where trains had begun operation between Pensacola and the Apalachicola River around 1885. They could have also been taken by wagon to the Apalachicola River where they would have been loaded directly onto river boats and perhaps carried upstream to Columbus, Georgia and points north.

Columbus was a very large textile manufacturing area and the cotton could have been used there to make fabric for clothing. Homer Hirt tells that today there is quite an interesting museum showing how the textile industry changed the raw product from cotton to clothing fabric, often using water power to power the equipment used for textile production.

If the cotton was taken downstream to Apalachicola, it could have been shipped anywhere in the world, as Apalachicola was the second largest cotton port on the Gulf of Mexico.

The long building seen directly behind the bales of cotton was the very large cotton warehouse. South of that was Arthur Calhoun's Livery Stable. In case "livery stable" means nothing to you, that was where they housed and sold mules and horses, which were very important to the farming in this area. There were no self-powered tractors of any kind at this point in time in the Deep South.

Since many families had some size piece of property on which they could raise food for their family, horses and mules were very important to the livelihood of the people in our area at this time. Horses were also the only means of transportation, either to be ridden or to pull wagons and buggies.
Mrs. Mary "Sangy" White, a 100-plus year old African-American lady, tells how she plowed two mules many days on the 40 acre farm she and her husband owned north of Marianna. On one particular day, the horses ran into a yellow jacket nest. She proudly tells that she was able to get the stinging wasps off her mules before they were injured too seriously. She also tells about how she and her husband would pick cotton late in the afternoon and into the evening and bring the large bag of cotton into the house during the night to protect it from the moisture of the dew and theft. Cotton was a crop raised by small farmers as well as larger farming operations. Marianna had a large cotton gin and there were cotton gins all over this area of Florida.

Note that the brick buildings across the north side of Lafayette Street appeared as one long one-story building with a continuous metal awning. Most of the stores were twenty-five feet wide and ran from "Fayette Street" to Market Street as they do now. With no AC they were always open, except in the wintertime, from street to street for air circulation. You can see the electric lines running above "The Plaza". Telephones came to Marianna in 1901.

If you look very carefully above the west end of the one-story buildings on "Fayette" Street, you can see the steeple and the windows of the original Methodist Church. There are also two very large homes or apartment houses in the area where the Post Office sits today. Mr. Dekle's General Store is the two-story building on the corner.

Judging by the large number of people who are standing under the long awning of the stores north of "The Plaza", cotton auctions must have been a very interesting and entertaining event. There is also a very nice collection of buggies to the right of the area where the cotton is being auctioned. The picket fence is in front of the old Chipola Hotel from where these photographs were taken.

The Cotton Industry is still alive and well in Jackson County today! Jeff Pittman, one of our outstanding cotton farmers, says there are approximately 31,000 to 35,000 acres of cotton being grown in the county, with an average yield of 600 pounds per acre. The average price today is 70 cents per pound, down from a record $2.00 per pound about 18 months ago. That price triggered higher production from India and China which lowers the price, since this is a supply and demand product.

He says that the large rectangular modules we see sitting in the fields have been picked by the picking machinery, forming 500 pound bales, with 16 bales making up a module. These are loaded into the large cotton trucks moving along the roadways which are taking the cotton to the cotton gins, most going to gins in Bainbridge or Donaldsonville, Georgia, Hartford, Alabama or Greenwood, Florida. It takes about 1,500 pounds of raw cotton to produce 500 pounds of lint, which is the cotton after the cotton gin process has removed the seeds.

Jeff further states that there are many new varieties of cotton since the 1800's, but while, for many years, tractors and herbicides eliminated the hard work of hoeing and hand labor, the Pigweed and other herbicide resistant weeds have forced the farmers to return to hoeing and hand pulling, which is hard, back-breaking, hot work.

In the fall, as we see the beautiful white fields of cotton being grown, picked, loaded and carried along the roadways, with some blowing onto the road right-of-ways (commonly known as "Southern Snow"), we should take the time to appreciate the hard work that has taken place by the farmer as he has planted this crop, tended it for several months and now has it being taken to the gin to be prepared to be sold to make our cotton clothing and other cotton products which are so important to our comfort and well-being.

Farmers have always been a very important part of our well-being and our standard of living, particularly in our North Florida area. Farmers continue to be very special to us in 2012.

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Last modified onWednesday, 01 January 2014 05:44

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