Cotton in Dublin
By Frank Chamberlain
Cotton has been one of the major cash crops for Erath County and the rest of Texas since the late 19th century. It represents 35% of the entire crops harvested in Texas, and a quarter of the cotton produced in the entire nation is grown in the state. Throughout the twentieth century, Texas has led all other states in cotton production in most years. In fact, the state legislature designated cotton as the official state fabric in 1997. [Texas Almanac 380, 593-594]
Cotton was first recognized as a valuable commodity in Erath County around 1880. At this time, a railroad was laid through the region which allowed easy transportation of cotton bales. Previously, growing cotton was not a viable economic option due to the difficulties in transporting the product. Soon, nearly fifty gins were established throughout the county, with half a dozen located in both Stephenville and Dublin alone. These area gins were producing around 40,000 bales per year by the turn of the century. During the first decade of the twentieth century, the cotton industry was producing an annual countywide income of nearly $7,000,000. The introduction of a cotton compress in Dublin increased the shipping efficiency of the area farmers. As the name implied, the compress smashes the cotton bales into smaller units for easier and more economical transportation. This was among the first industries founded in Dublin. Cotton yards with large storage warehouses were also found in the area. These warehouses were used to store large amounts of cotton until the market price had risen to a more profitable level [Perry 54-59].
The early gins were unable to separate the usable cotton from the seeds and pods (bolls), so the fieldworkers had to manually separate the parts of the plant before it could be processed. This entailed a lot of extra labor and attention by the workers. Even with this time-consuming activity, a fast picker could gather around four hundred pounds per day. Eventually, the machinery in the gin was improved and was capable of separating the usable cotton from the extraneous debris. This vastly improved the rate of production and enabled the pickers to gather as much as eight hundred pounds. This also allowed the workers to earn higher salaries because they were paid according to every hundred pounds they produced.
The cotton industry in the Erath region began to decline as overproduction caused prices to drop. In addition, boll weevils and other insects entered the area in the early twentieth century bringing diseases that severely damaged the cotton plants and hampered production. During the next half century, cotton production went into steady decline. Area landowners began to use their land for other agricultural endeavors, notably for livestock and dairy production. By the 1950s, cotton production had almost ceased, with only two gins still in operation in Erath County. The cotton farms that were remained active were only able to do so due to government grants rewarded to those farmers who maintained a prearranged allotment. Meanwhile, the centers of cotton production moved further west in Texas to places such as the Lubbock area, as new methods of irrigation enabled growth on land that was previously considered unfit for farming.
Westphal, Dorothy V. Dunn. Covered Wagons Keep on Rollin’, Dublin, TX.