Collection: James Whitlow
Scanned by: James Whitlow
This scene could have been in any small town in the South when Cotton was “King” in the early twentieth century. All small Southern towns came alive when the cotton harvesting season began, with cash flowing from cotton pickers buying clothes and house goods to planters paying off loans to the banks. Yes, Cotton was the King of the cash crops. It seemed almost all people except the wealthy picked cotton. Even the town people “city slickers” could find a cotton patch close to town and the hill people “hillbillies” would come to the “Bottoms” to pick the white fluff. Some of the hill people would batch in old houses from Monday to Saturday until noon and go back home Saturday afternoon to do chores around their place and to attend church on Sunday. On Monday morning, the same routine would begin again. This routine usually lasted from when the cotton began to open in late August until October when schools started their fall term. Most schools in Lawrence County had a Summer Term which lasted from six to eight weeks, starting after the Fourth of July. This allowed the students to help in the cotton harvest and to provide the students with a way to earn some money.
Early 1900 Cotton Gins in Walnut Ridge
According to the Sanborn Map of 1908, there were three cotton gins in Walnut Ridge in addition to the Phoenix Cotton Oil Company that processed oil from the cotton seed. All three cotton gins were within a few blocks of one another alongside the tracks of the Frisco Railroad, which ran from Hoxie, through Walnut Ridge and Pocahontas, to St Louis. These tracks have been replaced with the Bike / Walking Trail that runs from Hoxie to Williams Baptist College.
In no particular order, the first cotton gin was the W. R. Lane Gin at 400 West Main next to the Hoxie and Pocahontas Railroad Tracks, near where Higginbotham Funeral Home, now Cox Funeral Home is now. This funeral home was the original home of W. R. Lane. The second was the Planters Gin, which was located on SW Fourth between Vine and Pine Streets, where the present Water Works Shop is located. The third, and largest cotton gin, was located with the Phoenix Cotton Oil Company, located west of the Hoxie and Pocahontas Railroad, bordered by Free Street on the south and Elm Street on the north side with SW Sixth Street on the west side.
It has been said that when The Phoenix Cotton Oil Company came to Walnut Ridge and the Iron Mountain Railroad Shops came to Hoxie around 1904, that is when both became boom towns with their largest economic and population gains in the town’s history. Both companies provided well paying jobs year-round, not just when cotton had to be chopped and picked.
1904 – 1907 Main Street, Walnut Ridge
This post card was postmarked on October 4th, 1907 and has a one cent stamp on it. It was addressed to a Miss Mallie Rankin in Gallatin, Tennessee and reads:
Hello Miss Mallie, Received your postal, glad to hear from you. How is this for old Arkansas, J. A. B.
This photograph of the wagons with bales of cotton with men on them was taken on West Main Street, facing east toward the Iron Mountain Railroad tracks. We know the photo was taken between 1904 and the postmark date of 1907 because the Hotel Rhea is visible. The Hotel Rhea, which was built in 1904, was one of the finest hotels of its time between St. Louis and Little Rock, and can be seen on the right side of the photo. For more history and information on The Hotel Rhea, visit their web site at TheHotelRhea.com.
Across the street from The Rhea is Bloom’s Department Store which burned in November 1930. Bloom’s was the main business on this block, providing the buying public with dry goods and hardware. Today, this block consists of the businesses of Coker’s Insurance to The Van Atkins Meeting Place.
The barn on the left is the site where Lawrence County Bank was located until it closed for liquidation in 1931. In 1933, the First National Bank of Lawrence County took over the building and has been in business in that same location since then.
In 1907, there weren’t any businesses on the block to the immediate right of the wagons, instead that side of Main Street from 2nd to 3rd Streets was fronted with six fairly large size homes. That side of Main now has several businesses cornered between “Imagine” and the “Times Dispatch”.
If you look closely at the dirt streets, you can see the streetcar tracks, they would have been fairly new at the time. The Walnut Ridge & Hoxie Light, Power & Transit Company was chartered on Sept 9, 1903. The streetcar tracks were placed in operation in 1904 and ran from Walnut Ridge to the Roundhouse in Hoxie.