Wednesday, March 15, 2017

An Accidental Cotton Gin Find

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Compared to today, the research I had for our 2008 trip to the Ozarks was severely lacking. There were a lot of reasons for this, but we wouldn’t take another trip like this without a lot more research. (In other words, I have a LOT to do!)

I am always interested in the various agricultural crops that are grown around the country. Growing up on a dairy farm, we knew about alfalfa, corn, and oats. Our crops were grown for cattle feed.

Now, traveling around Wisconsin we see wheat, soybeans, tobacco, and even cranberries, but when we travel to other states, we have the opportunity to see other crops.

For instance, I knew that cotton was grown in the south, but I didn’t have any cotton gin buildings marked when we took this first trip to Arkansas. It was just by chance that we stumbled on an old abandoned cotton gin. Joann took as many pictures as she could, but the trees and shrubs growing up around it made it hard to see very much of the building.

As Joann was processing the photos for this blog, she came across a photo by another photographer showing the gin buildings cleaned up. What a difference it makes! We can only hope the buildings will be maintained (and I can get research done for another trip!).

In 1900, there were 29,214 active cotton gins in the United States. This meant that most small towns in the cotton-growing areas had their own gin. Since cotton was so labor intensive, the gin ran all year long, and was often a gathering spot for cotton farmers. Modern gins run during ginning season only which is about 4 months long. Ginning season is between late summer and late fall, depending on harvest time for the area.

In 2000, Arkansas had around 1 million acres of cotton. By 2016, that number had fallen to around 330,000 acres. The number of modern gins in Arkansas went from 86 to just 26 in the past 15 years.

After our trip to Arkansas, we had this old gin building in our collection, but we didn’t find any cotton fields on that trip. Since we usually travel in the spring, which is planting season, we don’t see the finished crops. Our travel wish list contains many places to visit in the late summer/early fall period, but we haven’t managed to make any of those trips yet.

We did, however, find a few cotton plants at the edge of a field in North Carolina in 2010 when we were looking for newly planted tobacco fields. They were a couple of missed plants from the prior year’s harvest, but it did let us get a close-up look at the cotton plant.

I’m not sure if we’ll ever manage to visit a state when cotton is blooming or when it is ready to be harvested, but we sure would like to!

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories as well as your dreams, and photos, of course!

    1. Thanks, Jean. There's certainly no shortage of dreams, that's for sure!

  2. Ruth… another wonderful narrative! Joann… wonderful pictures as usual! :)

    1. Thanks from both of us, Stephanie! We're so pleased that you continue to follow us in our pursuit of this country's heritage. Blessings to you!

  3. We saw cotton fields ready to be harvested for the first time last fall when we were driving through south Georgia. At first we asked, what is in that field, and then quickly realized it was cotton! As always, thanks for sharing this story and the photos!