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Monday, October 26, 2015

Woodstock Cotton and a Bad Bug

October makes me think of cotton harvest time. If there were a beauty pageant for botanical specimens, the cotton plant would win without a doubt. Cotton, the agricultural resource responsible for many of the clothes on our backs is the end product of lovely, pink-tinged, white blossoms. These flowers transform into spherical, luminous, green pods called bolls, which mature and open. The comely result is fluff--soft, white clouds that can rest in your hand.

Muddy Main Street in Woodstock and farmers bringing their cotton to town.
After slave emancipation, cotton cultivation actually increased in Woodstock, which became a trade center for the crop. Cotton grew well and proved profitable.  Once the railroad cut through in 1879, giant bales weighing around 500 pounds could be transported easily over greater distances. So in early Woodstock, cotton was the talk of the town. Imagine farmers and businessmen milling about Dean's Store, chewing tobacco and discussing cotton prices.
J.H. Johnston, cotton merchant, inspects cotton before determining a value.
The cotton gin was situated where Serenade subdivision stands today. Farmers with wagon loads of cotton paused in one long line down Main Street, waiting their turn. Local cotton merchants evaluated the cotton, and the bales were stored in warehouses before shipment to textile factories. Meanwhile, at the Rope Mill on Little River, savvy Woodstock business men turned low-grade cotton into strong plow lines and well rope. 

With the 1920s, several problems occurred: the effects of poor crop rotation, foreign competition, and a strange bug known as the boll weevil. The insect entered the U.S. through Mexico. From Texas, the devastation spread swiftly. Workers scrambled to pluck boll weevils at a penny per weevil. Although the boll weevil can fly, I like to imagine that the shrewd little insects hitched rides in boxcars traveling throughout the South but that is giving a mere exoskeleton with a trivial brain way too much credit.

The boll weevil is one ugly bug. dull-colored and round-bodied, the insect has a long, skinny snout like a blunt hypodermic needle with chewing mouth parts at the end Two weird little antennae and six hinged legs complete the picture. That pointy snout gnaws a small opening into the cotton boll where eggs are laid. Hatching larvae, safely protected within, feast on the cotton fibers. Emerging pupae become gorging adults. The resulting mess is anything but attractive. With the advent of the boll weevil science began a long battle, and the livelihood of many in and around Woodstock tumbled.

Blessed with innovative minds, Woodstock has economically reinvented itself several times over the decades, and the city continues to have a strong and prosperous future.

Visit the newly-installed kiosk put up by Woodstock Downtown Development Authority. Preservation Woodstock, Inc., contributed a poster about the historic cotton period in our town.
Main Street in Woodstock Georgia
Patti Brady is a member of Preservation Woodstock and she is author of the contemporary Woodstock fiction series: The Heart of a Child and The Power of Her Smile