Rupert Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 28, 2008

Demolition footnotes King Cotton’s demise

Last October the local director of the Farm Service office told the Panola County Historical and Genealogical Society (Pan Gens) that once we lose the infrastructure to produce and process cotton, that commodity would be gone.

Kim Billingsley explained how big an investment would have to be made to ever recapture the once undisputed King of the South. He explained that 40,000 to 45,000 acres of cotton had been planted in past years and only 11,000 in 2007. There were nine gins in the county in 1988 and only three today he said.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that when I went to the Old Compress building and began photographing the demolition of that once proud building that I realized what all this meant. I felt it deep down in my gut — the same way I feel when I’m about to spend a lot of money.

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A Quitman County attorney and friend, Chuck Balch, reminded me not long ago that a war had been fought, a country born,  a country lost, families separated and more all in the name of cotton.

Maybe I’m naive and should have seen what was coming, but the tearing down of a building that once bustled with activity during ginning season shook the reality into my head.

I, like many others, grew up with the whistle announcing 7 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. at that cotton warehouse. That whistle sound along with the sound of compressed steam being released while the cotton was being pressed where permanent sensations of autumn just like cool nights, burning leaves, herbicide smells and the anticipation of changing seasons.

During my growing up years of the ‘50s and ‘60s kids spent a lot more time out-of-doors plus windows and doors were open more often allowing us to be more aware of sounds and activities surrounding us. The transistor had just been invented so video games, cell phones and other technological gadgets were not a factor and television programing during those years was very limited.

During “bumper crop” years the entire community felt the prosperity as farmers would purchase new equipment, vehicles and an abundance of other goods while poor crop years would mean leaner times for us all. You could feel it. Even a kid could sense it.