The Hopson Plantation, located in Clarksdale Mississippi, was in the forefront of cutting-edge technology and processes in relation to the production of cotton starting in the late 1850’s. This plantation, purchased by the Hopson family in 1858 from the State of Mississippi, quickly established its self as a leader in the cotton industry with forward thinking ideas and continuous integration of new technology. The plantation quickly grew to nearly four thousand acres, with just over seventy-five percent of that acreage in cultivated land purposed with the production of cotton in mind. With the growth of the plantation came several challenges that the Hopson’s took in stride by cutting their acres invested in cotton in half in accordance with the Agricultural Adjustment Administrations’ cotton program in order to increase yield on the reduced acreage and decrease expenses. In addition to the compliance with the cotton program, they also allowed International Harvester to use the plantation to develop the mechanical cotton picker starting in 1935. The path of this historic plantation continues through the twentieth century and led to the tourist attraction that currently resides on the property, the Shack Up Inn.
P1. Continued History
The history and development of the Hopson Plantation did not end in 1935 when International Harvester began the development of the mechanical cotton gin on their property. Just before IH stepped onto the plantation, the Hopson’s integrated the use of tractors and pickup trucks into their cotton-picking process. This was a large step up from the previous use of horses and carts, which was the previous method for tilling the land and hauling the crop from the plantation. On October 2nd, 1944, the Hopson Plantation hosted the first ever demonstration of the mechanical cotton gin for an audience of three hundred guests. The device took the price of harvesting a bale of cotton from about $39.41 per bale to $5.26 per bale and could harvest up to six acres per day, a pace which even the most skilled workers could not compete with. Shortly after this demonstration, the plantation became the testing grounds for the new invention named the flame cultivator. This device was created for the removal of weeds through fire and kept the plantation on the forefront of emerging technology. By the early 1950’s the plantation had become fully automated and had eliminated all aspects of pre-mechanized operation. The Hopson’s continued their support of new technology and hosted several more demonstrations while they operated as an independent operation until 1972.
P2. Hopson’s role in the removal of sharecropping
With the Hopson’s continuous development of technology came the disappearance of sharecropping. Sharecropping was a practice that began after the civil war in which previous slaves would work the land of an owner to earn a share of each crop and earn a living. The problem with this system is that most of the time the workers would have to deal with high interest rates, unpredictable harvests, and unreliable merchants. These factors often kept the workers from making enough money to move on to better opportunities and kept them firmly planted in the south harvesting crops for their share of the profits. The technological movement, aided by the Hopsons, led to the removal of this practice and the transition into seasonal and migrant workers. Plantations became more dependent on a smaller group of workers that would work during the day for a set wage or would travel to the plantation during the busy periods in the season to complete the work. Without the Hopson’s commitment to technological forms of harvest, this progression may have taken much longer to become prominent.
P3. Cotton picker history and relevance
The modern cotton gin was in development before the Hopsons were aware of the design, but with their help International Harvester’s Idea quickly became a reality. The idea of the cotton gin came originally from a man by the name of Eli Whitney. The job of this timesaving invention was not to harvest the cotton, but rather, remove the seeds from the plant which was a daunting process before the gin. The basic idea for the gin was to use a wooden dowel with several fine hooks to process the cotton by pulling each cotton bud apart. The cotton was then run across a mesh film to remove the seeds because the seeds could not pass through the mesh, effectively separating the two parts of the bud. This greatly sped up the process by allowing the workers to harvest the plants while a machine separated the parts. With this machine running while harvest, each plantation could complete both processes at the same time. The cotton gin was also unique because each part for the machine was standardized and therefore easy to replace if the machine was to break. This was something that was unheard of at the time with most machines being built by hand and not made the same way so that replacement parts were few and far between. With the increased production of cotton and the ease at which it can be stored, this simple idea for a machine began to change the clothing industry as well.
P4. The Shack Up Inn
The final step for this historic site ultimately landed with the development of the Shack Up Inn. In 1970, the Hopson plantation became more appreciated for its role in the development of blues music. The plantation was purchased by a group of local businessmen and its role in the history of cotton production came to a conclusion. The Shack Up Inn was built on the property and became the popular tourist attraction that it is now. The original buildings that existed on the property were renovated and repurposed to become the Shack Up Inn. The Inn holds significant historical value and several of the buildings became a concert hall and a meeting venue for use by the resort. The tourists that come to visit can expect to stay in some of the buildings that the workers called their homes and have the opportunity to explore the rich culture and history of the Mississippi Delta.
The Hopson Plantation has been at the forefront of the cotton-picking industry since its start in 1850’s. The willingness to change and adapt by the Hopson family gave IH the opportunity to bring in innovative technology that would change the production of cotton to a new level of farming and efficiency. The vast history of innovative technology on the plantation, makes The Shack Up Inn that has been built on the property a landmark frozen in time sharing how innovation takes time and can change an entire way of life.