The lure and discovery…Cotton
As a youngster, I remember, vividly, driving through Georgia on our way to Florida. It was our yearly family road trip during Easter break to visit our relatives in Pompano Beach. By the time we got to this southern state, our arms were hanging out the car windows, trying to get warm by the sun.
We sipped Coca-Cola, and mom bought Georgia peaches from the local highway stands when we needed a break. Us kids took turns and asked: “are we there yet,” “how much longer?”
Sometimes, dad took the back roads, to get away from the traffic…he was not a calm driver. Still in all, we endured this venture which took 3 full days of driving, with a few swats from mom to keep us quiet. This was pre-tablet days and it was generally, boring. No CD’s with a playlist labeled — “road trip.”
What I remember most was the tenant farmer’s homes, and the cotton fields. We wanted to get out of the car to pick some and feel the natural fiber, but this would be trespassing. None of us knew about the peanut farmers back then, or that Georgia is the #1 pecan producer, (much less about Vidalia onions).
My singular memory was the cotton…this was the Georgia of my childhood. On a recent trip to Florida, I tried to re-create a portion of the road trip to Florida, at least part of it, from Atlanta to south Florida, just 2 hours from Atlanta. We didn’t need to use a GPS, the cotton fields are visible from the highway.
Too late in the year for peaches, yet, there were tons of stately pecans trees in plain sight. And we could not resist stopping to buy some!
On this route we saw a sign that listed a Cotton Museum (former school house) in the town of Vienna, Georgia. I was so excited and decided to get off the highway and get my chance of touching the real thing.
Tenant farming and Sharecropping
Just think of the impact cotton had. Cotton historically employed more Americans than any other industry and was a dominant role in the southerner’s life. Georgia is the 2nd highest producing state.
Mr. Earl, our knowledgable curator, showed me a cotton bag that was similar to what his mother used in the fields when he was a baby, just like the one in the photo above. It was 10 feet long, and would weigh 100 lbs when full.
Even the cottonseed is milled for oil, One ton of cottonseed, crushed, will yield 320 lbs of oil. The leftovers, like the hulls, are used as livestock feed.
There is a 10-minute video on the history of cotton, old photos, and antique farm tools. The entire museum is geared on the cycle of planting, sowing, harvest, and processing, all on display. A living history lesson.
Did you know…one bale of cotton produces over 200 pairs of blue jeans!
Men and women both worked the field together. Photos of slave labor depict part of the past social injustice in the South.
Plow used before mechanized farming.
It was a thrill, and we enjoyed a glimpse of the past two-hundred years. Lots of history associated with the cotton industry in this tiny museum.
PS. The (rolled bale) round module in the opening picture weighs 5,000 pounds which equals 3.8 bales of cotton.
Trivia: What is a cotton gin? Answer: the machine that separates the cotton from the seeds discovered by Eli Whitney in Georgia. The “gin” is short for engine.
In conclusion: Flying is the fastest mode of traveling, however, you can get in a car at any moment and be ready for a road trip. I think stopping and touring “anything” is a great inducement. Getting off the main highway just to eat at a local place is essential to feel the atmosphere of the South. It’s all about the journey isn’t it?
A meaningful travel experience is not that far away… Hit the road now!