AUGUST BROUGHT THE COTTON TO TOWN

By Nowell Briscoe

 

        When August rolls around each year, I am always reminded of a word I closely associate with the month: cotton.  And there is good reason for the month and the word to be related since years ago Monroe was called the unofficial “Cotton Capital” of Georgia and it was in August when the first bales of cotton would come to town.

          My knowledge of this part of Monroe’s history is limited at best but some memories I have retained since my grandfather, father and uncle were cotton merchants and had the distinction of buying twice the cotton from the farmers as any other cotton merchant in Georgia.

          I never had any real “hands-on” experience when it came to grading the cotton samples brought in by the farmers for an actual price point.  My experience came in riding with my father in the summers on Saturday & Sunday afternoons as he toured Social Circle, Gratis, Bostwick and Good Hope checking out the various cotton fields to see how the cotton was growing and the effects the weather and Boll Weevil’s were having on the individual crops.

          Those rides in his un-air conditioned station wagon with the windows down were not pleasant at all as the hot air poured into the car along with red dust if we happened to be riding down a dirt road. Every time I think of cotton, I associate those hot rides in the country with the horrific smell of the poison that was used to spray each field to kill off the Boll Weevil’s and any other insect which might damage or destroy a cotton plant.  As often as I had to smell that horrible odor, you would think I would remember the name of it as I was always asking my father what that awful smell was.  Thanks to some of the group on the Face Book site, “Monroe…Remembering the Past”, I learned the early version I inhaled was “3-5-40” which was a combination of Benzene, Hexachloride, DDT & sulfur.  I was not sure anyone would remember but was surprised how many folks did remember with many recalling the same experience of smelling that noxious odor but smelly or not, it did the trick for many years in helping produce exceptional crops of cotton.

          Referring to my Monroe notebooks I found several articles reporting where August was typically the month the first bales of cotton would be brought to town.  The oldest article is dated August 22, 1941 showing where Mr. W. T. Peters, Jr. of the Blasingame district was congratulated in bringing in the first bale of the year, an honor he had carried forward since 1939.  The bale, weighing 493 lbs., was ginned by Monroe Oil & Fertilizer Co.  The bale was purchased by my grandfather for $93.67, exclusive of the seed.

          The first bale brought to town in August 1949 was by Harris Hester of the Blasingame district, weighed in by Launius Bonded Warehouse at 510 lbs., ginned by Monroe Oil & Fertilizer Co and purchased by my grandfather for $152.40.

          Herschel Dillard of Campton brought the first bale to town in August 1954 to Wright Gin & Trading Company where it was weighed in at 467 lbs. and my father presented Mr. Dillard a check in the amount of $186.40.  Shortly after the first bale arrived, George N. Robison brought in the second bale which was ginned by Monroe Oil & Fertilizer, stored in Launius Bonded Warehouse and Mr. Robison received a check from my father in the amount of $206.40.

During the years when the cotton crop was producing large numbers of bales, there was a cotton festival in town which usually lasted a week beginning with a parade through town.  I have a photo of one parade where my uncle’s car had a bale of cotton attached to the roof and signs for my grandfather’s business on the doors. These festivals always brought in a lot of folks to town and business seemed to boom in all areas.

 

          In an article for the Walton Tribune’s Sesquicentennial Edition in 1968, my father recalled how, for years Walton County produced between 25,000-30,000 bales per season and added there was one especially good year when the production of cotton reached 52,000 bales.  He also remembered when the price of cotton per pound ranged from four and a quarter cents in 1933 to a high of forty seven and a half cents in 1951.

         

In the late fifties and early sixties, drought, insects and acreage reduction cut heavily into the cotton production bringing down the number of bales to between 10-12,000 bales.  In 1966 the total number of bales recorded dropped to 5,615 and in 1967 the number dropped to 4,000 bales. The crop for 1968 was not much higher due to the excessively hot spell in August which burnt up what had been hoped as a really good crop for the year.

          An interesting article on cotton was mentioned in the July 26, 1972 issue of the Walton Tribune.  The National Bank of Walton County displayed a bale of cotton in the bank’s lobby which dated back to 1919.  The bale was in excellent condition and was grown by Mr. A. B. Dillard of Gratis.  Mr. Dillard’s bale weighed in at 491 lbs.  My grandfather offered Mr. Dillard a price of 30 cents per pound but he declined the offer saying he would wait until the price rose to 50 cents.  Mr. Dillard had the bale carefully stored in his barn for years waiting for the price he was willing to sell it for.  The photo accompanying the article shows Garland Radford, bank president, Mrs. Sammy (Judy) Simonton, Mr. Dillard’s granddaughter and my uncle, Dan Briscoe.  No mention was made if the bale of cotton ever sold for the aforementioned price.

          My family’s cotton brokerage business was on the second floor of the old Walton Hotel Building from 1919 until my uncle relocated to the historic Felker house on Highland Avenue in 1970.  The last time I walked up those well-worn wooden steps to where the old offices were, when I reached the second floor I could still smell a faint aroma of cotton and cigar smoke as if the business was still in operation.  I can close my eyes and still see the floor area by the office door surrounded by rolled samples of cotton waiting to be examined by my father and uncle.  Even with the renovation of that historic old building, I wonder if I were to again walk up to the second floor would the ghosts of years past and the aroma of cotton and cigar smoke be as prevalent as it was when the month of August signaled the arrival of cotton coming to town?