Before computers, before industrial farming, before air conditioning, cotton was king in the Brazos Valley, building land empires, family fortunes and entire towns to support the industry. The Texas Cotton Gin Museum in Burton gives visitors the opportunity to stroll through a lifestyle that has been preserved for those who appreciate both the past and the people who tilled the Brazos Valley soil before them.
It is rare to find a piece of technology that still functions after almost 100 years. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin at the end of the 18th century, and as time passed, it was modified to accommodate mass quantities of cotton. In 1914, a group of 13 local German farmers in the small town of Burton spearheaded a project to build an “air-system” gin that takes up most of a two-story structure to process the cotton grown in the surrounding area.
Located an hour from Bryan/College Station, Burton has a population of fewer than 400 people, but it is home to the Burton Farmers Gin, the oldest operating cotton gin in America, as well as the only cotton gin museum in the United States. Some 6,000 sightseers visit the Texas Cotton Gin Museum each year and for an hour or two they become part of the region’s history. For roughly the same amount of money it cost a farmer to use the cotton gin 100 years ago, visitors can step into the life of a turn-of-the-century cotton farmer and enjoy a guided tour of the historic gin.
Processing a single cotton bale takes around twelve minutes, but the tour takes about an hour and a half as each step of the process and the inner-workings of the giant machine are examined and explained. Visitors can explore the rambling structure that houses the cotton gin while picking up interesting cotton trivia: one 500-pound bale of cotton can produce 300 pairs of men’s jeans; 1,217 men’s t-shirts; 764 men’s dress shirts; 484 men’s trousers; 896 women’s blouses; 542 women’s shirts; 782 terry bath sets; or 210 bed sheets.
In 1974, the gin closed for commercial processing for both financial and logistic reasons. When polyester took over the clothing industry in the 1970s, the demand for cotton dried up and cattle replaced cotton as the dominant agricultural industry. The drop in cotton demand coincided with fewer sons of farmers who were willing to take over farms and maintain the family business. After years of standing idle, the Cotton Gin Museum opened in 1999. – by Caroline Ward
IF YOU GO
The Texas Cotton Gin Museum is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free, but guided tours are offered at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day. Tour Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for students, and no charge for children under the age of 5. For more information, visit www.cottonginmuseum.org., call (979) 289-3378 or email email@example.com.
Texas Ranger Day in Burton
August 13 beginning at 2 p.m., visit Burton for the Texas Ranger Day and Big Star Texas Night, a celebration of the history of Burton and honoring past and present Texas Rangers. Festivities start with a Fajita-and-Bean cook-off at 2 p.m. at the Burton Railroad Depot (507 N. Railroad Street), and will be served from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. On the depot porch, The Fun Country Band will perform western swing and old-time country music. The live auction will start at 6 p.m. on Main Street, followed by the dance with concerts from Crossroads, then Gary P. Nunn. Other attractions will be a display of old weapons and live action re-enactments by the Old West Rangers. Proceeds from the event will aid the Burton Heritage Society and the Burton Chamber of Commerce.
Tickets are $6 for the fajita dinner and $10 for the dance. Visit www.burtonheritagesociety.org for more information.
Burton Barn Dance
October 8 marks the 8th Annual Barn Dance and Dinner Gala hosted by the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and will include a silent and live auction, dinner, live entertainment, door prizes and dancing all to raise awareness and funds for Burton’s trademark cotton gin. Held at La Bahia Dance Hall on Highway 237 in Burton from 6:30 p.m. to midnight, tickets are $50 per person or $700 per table of eight. For more information, call (979) 289-3378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
5 Things You Didn’t Know about Cotton
1. Scientists have found cotton remains that are at least 7,000 years old in the Tehuacán Valley of Mexico.
2. U.S. Dollars are made of 75% cotton and 25% linen and are 100% machine washable.
3. When pressed, cottonseeds produce oil that is used in cooking, as well as to make lotion, shampoo, conditioner, Crisco, cologne, toothpaste, salad dressing, and much more.
4. Cotton grows naturally in various hues of brown, red, green and yellow.
5. The scientific name for cotton is Gossypium herbaceum and cotton cells are the largest in the plant kingdom at an average of one inch in length.