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The press was built around 1840 by Isaac Norfleet and originally located on his farm west of town on West Wilson St. It also is a wine and cider press. The cotton press was moved to the Tarboro Town Common in 1938.


  • The Cotton Press ca. 1840 at its current location on the Tarboro Town Common. It is a wooden machine used in the 19th century to bale cotton.
  • Norfleet Cotton Press in its original location on the Norfleet Farm on West Wilson St. Photo from Library of Congress Francis B. Johnston collection taken in 1936.
  • Interior workings of the press including the 19" hand carved screw that is moved by animals (oxen or mules) turning the screw to press the cotton into a bale.
  • Scale drawing of the press from Historic American Building Survey entry completed by Thomas Waterman in 1940. See link below.
  • Model of the cotton press located in the Edgecombe Memorial Library that shows how the press operated. Photo by Shondi Showalter

The cotton press was built by Isaac Norfleet in the mid-19th century as a wine and cider press and as a cotton press other seasons. Norfleet was a wealthy planter, and he was also the district US Marshall.  Due to the high demand of cotton, this made bales of cotton that weighed between 300-350 pounds each. Edgecombe county was the largest cotton producer in North Carolina with an annual production of 15,000 bales. 

The cotton press is constructed out of heart pine, it has a large hand carved screw that measures nineteen inches in diameter. The top hip roof is positioned on top of thescrew and there are two booms that attach to the roof. Two mules or oxen would be hooked up to these booms and they would walk around in circles and this would tighten or loosen the screw depending on which way the mule/oxen were hooked up. The press is twenty-two feet high overall, there is larger roof that protects the press and it also provided shelter for the workers from the sun and rain.

There is a working model of the cotton press in the Edgecombe County Memorial Library. The library is located at 909 N. Main Street, Tarboro,NC, 27886, it is about a block away from the presses current location. The hours of operation for the library are Monday-Thursday 9 A.M.- 9 P.M., Friday 9 A.M.-6 P.M., and Saturday 9 A.M.-5 P.M.

It is believed that the Norfleet Cotton Press is the last one in existence in the state. The Norfleet House is located on the Edgecombe Community College campus, which is across the street from the original location and the family cemetery is located there. 

Horne, Meade. "Tarboro's Cotton Press." Tar Heel Jr. Historian Spring 2001. P. 15-17.