“Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,
Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away . . .”
(And now even the cotton fields are disappearing!)
—Stephen Foster, “Old Black Joe”
To hear this song sung by Paul Robeson, click here.)
In my last post I discussed four subjects: the sale of the McGehee Estate mansion, an alligator in the McGehee city park pond, my wife Marion’s brown cotton plant and harvest, and the passing of two members of the cast of the 1980’s TV show “Designing Women.”
In this post I would like to provide an update on three of those subjects: the McGehee Estate sale, the decline of cotton production and the changes in modern cotton harvesting, and “Designing Women.” I will also include another related subject I have discussed recently, the dogtrot houses that were once so numerous in the Arkansas Delta and surrounding areas.
Update on the Sale of the McGehee Estate
“But though we are what we do, what we do is not all of what we are. We are also products of place. Where we grew up and how we experienced the physical environment of our formation are also a part of who we are.”
—Kathleen Parker, “The nominee’s gender, geography,”
Tulsa World, May 13, 2010
In a recent email, Barbara McClendon Barnes, a native of Southeast Arkansas, sent me an update on the sale of the McGehee Estate, called in the realtor’s ad “A true Southern plantation mansion.”
Here is what Barbara had to say on 10/26/14 about that sale:
“This is what I’ve found out about the McGehee Estate. A man from Monticello, Michael Berry, has supposedly bought it . . . for the sum of $110,000. That is for the house and property including the chandeliers and things attached to the house . . . but not including the furniture and such. . . . I’ll keep you informed.”
And I will keep you informed as I learn more about the fate of this icon of our hometown and home country.
Update on Cotton Production
and Picking in Arkansas
“A recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article states that
Arkansas planted ten times as many acres in soybeans as in cotton.”
On October 21, Pat Scavo sent me a link to an amazing 4.42-minute You Tube video titled “Cotton Harvest, Pickens, Arkansas,” featuring a mammoth new John Deere cotton picker in action. To view that incredible video, click on the title. You will see that it is a far cry from the old days in which cotton had to be picked by hand—and even from the early days of primitive mechanical cotton pickers!
On October 23, Taylor Prewitt, a native of Southeast Arkansas, shared with me his views on the subject of declining cotton production in Arkansas in general and this video in particular:
“A recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article indicates that this year Arkansas planted ten times as many acres in soybeans as in cotton, almost five times as much in rice, and nearly twice as much in corn.”
Here Taylor inserted a chart showing that while Arkansas grew 335,000 acres of cotton, at the same time it grew 3,300,000 acres of soybeans, 1,500,000 acres of rice, and 560,000 acres of corn.
“Also, a number of gins in the Arkansas Delta have not even been operating in the last couple of years. I didn’t see much cotton between Pine Bluff and McGehee, except for the Pickens and Tillar Estates, both very large operations, but I don’t know how much cotton they’re planting. The McGehee co-op gin is still operating, and farmers from Mississippi bring their cotton across the river to have it ginned in McGehee because the McGehee co-op gin gives cotton seed rebates. Rebates are a pretty big deal for the farmer. Rebates weren’t given until the co-ops started giving them, and some but not all other gins now give them.
“I had never seen one of these [huge modern cotton pickers] in operation. I think they cost about $800,000. [The actual list price for a John Deere 7760 6313N self-propelled cotton picker is $810,244.00. To learn more about it, click here.] I learned from the video that the farmer also has to buy a machine to go out into the field and pick up the round bales. The new picker is really an amazing machine.
“When all the old pickers are worn out, I guess the new ones are the only ones that will be available. A six-row picker could take the place of three two-row pickers. Lower labor costs. But the farmer has to be able to afford to save that much money.”
Update on Arkansas Delta Dogtrot Houses
“It’s a different [world] down there [in the Delta]. . . .There are little communities of gray, weathered shotgun shacks [and dogtrot houses] tenanted by people living off of the cotton as much the same way as people have done down here for nearly two hundred years.”
—Conrad Vollersten, “The colors of the Arkansas,”
in 1980s column titled “Along the Arkansas”
in unknown Oklahoma newspaper
Obviously, this quote about the Arkansas Delta is no longer entirely true. One apparent reason is the fact that due to the development of mechanical cotton pickers and other technological changes in farming over the past few decades, the need for farm laborers has been drastically reduced. As a result, the once ubiquitous sharecropper and tenant farmers and their shacks are fast becoming things of the past.
In evidence, here is another report from Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” on 10/12/14 about one of these fast disappearing relics of an earlier time and lifestyle.
“Well over 100 years old, this old dogtrot house in Cleveland, Arkansas, sits right bedside Highway 95 for all to see. Since time is taking its toll, get a good look. A few more ill winds and it could become kindling.
“The left (north) side of the front porch will be the first to go. You can easily see where the dogtrot was closed in the center. The ‘home-place-tree’ in the background is a healthy walnut, which will probably long outlive the house.
“The back of the house shows evidence of additions made after the original structure was completed. The missing roof segment lies in the foreground of the picture.”
In Joe’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” post published on November 2, he featured photos of old abandoned and decaying barns, houses, stores, etc. in the Arkansas Ozarks. Here is his answer to the question of why people leave such old structures to fall into disrepair rather just tearing them down:
My thinking is that these old structures give us a glimpse into our immediate past, a privilege that, since the old structures are falling, will not necessarily be available to succeeding generations. If they are to know, the onus is on us to record them while they are still standing.”
Amen, Brother Joe!
Update on the Cast of “Designing Women”
“So many thanks for all of your hard work on behalf of ‘Designing Women.’ I was surprised, after all this time, there are people out there that are still such fans of DW. Really, we are most indebted to you and want you to know how very grateful we are to all of you for your enduring interest and appreciation.”
writer-creator of “Designing Women” TV show
As noted, the last section of my latest post was about the passing of two of the cast members of the 1980s TV show “Designing Women.”
On the Web site for “Designing Women,” Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the show’s writer and creator, had this to say about that show and its Web site:
“The ‘80s gave us many classic sitcoms, but the brassy and sassy Designing Women was in a class all its own. . . . Each character carried a different ‘voice’ which set the stage for many humorous and often heartwarming debates, complimented by sharp dialogue and the charm and chemistry of the ensemble cast. And though it’s been over 25 years since it first aired, the series continues to grow in popularity as it touches new generations of viewers.
“This is the fourth incarnation of this website— now officially Designing Women Online. Since the site debuted in 1998 as a tribute to the series, features and layouts have evolved, relationships with the series cast and creators have blossomed, and an incredibly loyal fan base has shared what the show has meant to them.”
As noted in my previous blog post, Dixie Carter passed away on April 10, 2010, in Houston, Texas, and Jan Hooks passed away on October 9, 2014, after a long battle with an undisclosed illness.
A reader of my post wrote to call attention to the fact that another member of that cast, Meshach Taylor who played the young black male, also died recently, on June 28, 2014, at his family’s home after a long battle with cancer. According to the DW Web site another member of the original cast, Alice Ghostley, who had ties to both Arkansas and Oklahoma, passed away on September 21, 2007, at her home in Studio City, California.
To learn more about the other members of the DW cast and much more about the show itself, go to the beautifully designed “Designing Women” Web site and click on your favorite cast member or subject.
The quote from the song “Old Black Joe” was taken from:
The You Tube video of Paul Robeson singing “Old Black Joe” was taken from:
The update on the sale of the McGehee Estate was taken from a personal email from Barbara Barnes on 10/26/14.
The photos of the McGehee Estate were taken from:
The information on which Taylor Prewitt based his remarks and estimates of cotton production versus that of soybeans, rice, and corn was taken from an Arkansas Online entry for 10/15/14 titled “Storms hamper farmers’ harvests, Growers waiting on fields to dry,” written by Glen Chase.
The video of the John Deere cotton picker in action was taken from:
The photo of the 1950’s single-row mechanical cotton picker was taken from a book titled McGehee Centennial 1906-2006 published by the McGehee Centennial Committee.
The three photos of the modern John Deere 7760 six-row cotton picker were taken from:
The photos of the dogtrot house were taken from Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” on 10/12/14 at:
The photo of the original cast of “Designing Women” was taken from:
The quotes and photo about the show and its Web site and cast were taken from the official “Designing Women” Web site at: