What is in this article?:
- Bisland Cotton Gin β 120 years old and still running
- Engine cooled by water
- The Bisland Gin's new home is the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Miss.
- It is the oldest operational gin in America, and is cranked up each year at the museum's fall festival, held in November.
- The gin, built in 1892 by Peter Bisland, has three Gullett gin stands powered by a 1929 engine built by Continental Gin Co.
VOLUNTEER GINNER Fred Temple wraps up about 20 minutes of work at the Bisland Cotton Gin.
For those who cranked up the Bisland Cotton Gin for the first time on that fall morning in 1892, there was no boll weevil, local labor shortage, resistant pigweed or the comforts of air-conditioning, just a small community tightly bound by the urgency of harvest.
Cotton was 8.5 cents a pound in 1892. Grover Cleveland won the presidential election that fall. Nobody cared that he was reportedly a bit dull.
On a packed-down, dirt plaza surrounding the Bisland Gin, mules and horses would have pawed and snorted by the bale chute or in unloading lanes. Perhaps their owners were fidgety too, anxious to deliver cotton to the gin before the next storm. During that harvest and ginning season 120 years ago, a tropical storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico in early September and moved north right through the heart of the Delta over the next five days.
Time was measured by the gin whistle or the cast of a shadow. There were few times for breaks. A biscuit with honey might carry you to lunch. Gin safety was knowing where to be or not to be at any given time. Needless to say, fleetness of foot was always a handy skill to have.
In the early years, the Bisland Gin ran on steam, but it switched over to a one cylinder, two-stroke diesel engine in the late 1920s. An hour produced three bales, each wrapped in jute and secured by metal bands and pairs of rough, gnarly hands, some perhaps missing a digit or two.
The townspeople of Cannonsburg, Miss., were grateful that the gin supplied jobs, and its generator, two hours of electricity each night.
But over time, competing gins got bigger, faster and more efficient, and Bisland’s once-cutting-edge technology couldn’t keep up. In 1954, after 62 harvests, its wooden stands clacked to a stop. Cotton left the community of Cannonsburg, located just northeast of Natchez.
The story of the gin could have ended there, with the forces of Mother Nature mulching the wooden stands and building to the ground. But thanks to the efforts of a handful of people who recognized the historical value of the old relic, the Bisland Gin was relocated, restored and in 1984, restarted. It was idle for a few more years, and was cranked up again in the late 2000s. Today, it is reportedly the oldest, still-running gin in America, operated once a year at the Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum Fall Festival in Jackson, Miss.
When the Bisland Gin runs, it’s like watching a piece of live history. (See the old gin run here).
The heartbeat of the plant is the engine room. The gin is powered by the same single-cylinder, 55-horsepower oil engine which replaced the original steam engine. It was built in 1929 by the Continental Gin Co. of Birmingham Ala. This engine drives a flat 14-inch-wide, 50-foot-long belt that turns three gin stands which contain 70 saw blades each. The gin stands were manufactured by the Gullett Gin Co., of Amite, La.