First, a brief history of cotton itself. If you like, turn on Sousa’s King Cotton March for background music as you read.
Perhaps you've heard the expression King Cotton like I had. The Story of Cotton was quite an eye-opener to me. Little did I know that cotton history goes back at least 7,000 years and that by 1500 cotton was known generally throughout the world.
Cotton has endured as an agricultural crop that has consistently produced income for cotton farmers, and has undergone many changes as technology has changed all crops in the way they are planted, grown and harvested.
We had noticed crops in South Baldwin County and how important agriculture continues to be where the land is fertile and mostly flat, with plenty of rainfall and a long growing season. This seems to mean everything grows bigger and better than what we had been accustomed to.
One cotton field we noticed this week has already been defoliated in preparation for picking. Yesterday we pulled off on a side road to take photos of how big and beautiful a cotton field is. It had many boles yet to open, but the plants themselves were probably at their peak growth. One photo we took shows Wendell standing among the cotton plants with them up to his chest in height. We have not seen a cotton gin in South Baldwin County, so it is still a mystery as to where the cotton will be taken for processing.
Cotton itself is a story on its own, but one phase of the story has to do with the wealth it brought to cotton planters which paid for the construction of magnificent showplaces as homes. Many of the older homes endure to this day and are available for tours.
The four mansions featured by the America’s Castles tapes are a very small example of the homes cotton built. Three of them are located in areas hit by hurricanes in recent years. The fourth is located too far inland from the Coast to receive the assault of hurricane-force winds.
Built in 1895, the 31-room Moody Mansion was purchased for $20,000 after the hurricane of 1900 damaged it,and the Moody family remained there until 1986. One of its features is an 800 square foot dining room. William Jennings Bryan was among those who visited the mansion, and a foundation was established for its preservation and use.
The Bishop’s Palace, also in Galveston, was first built by Colonel Walter Gresham. Besides cotton, Gresham had other financial interests, including being involved in bringing the Santa Fe Railroad to Galveston. The cost of construction was $250,000, and it took 61 craftsmen three years to carve and assemble the staircase. Colonel Gresham also served in the Texas State Legislature and later became a member of the United States Congress. The residence includes many examples of the works of Mrs. Gresham, a trained and accomplished artist. Later it was sold, and a bishop lived in it, becoming known as The Bishops Palace. The Roman Catholic Diocese maintains this structure, which is available for tours.
Longue Vue House in New Orleans was the home of Edgar and Edith Stern. They began living there in 1942. After Edgar’s death in 1959 at age 73, Edith continued to live there until her death in 1980.
Swan House is the only cotton castle featured on this episode that has not had to endure hurricane force winds since it is located on a 28 acre estate in Atlanta, Georgia. It required two years to build at a cost of half a million in 1928 when the average home cost $2,000 to build. Edward and Emily Inman moved into Swan House in 1931. Edward died in 1949, and Emily continued to live there until her death in 1965. The Atlanta Historical Society purchased the home and maintains it.