Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Judd Hill Cotton Gin
Judd Hill Cotton Gin

JUDD HILL COTTON GIN, JUDD HILL, POINSETT COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Judd Hill Cotton Gin, which was built c.1930, is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C with statewide significance as the only example of a cotton gin in Judd Hill, and as an unusual example of a cotton gin built out of brick.  The Judd Hill Cotton Gin is also being nominated to the National Register under Criterion A for its associations with the role of cotton production in the agricultural history of Judd Hill and Poinsett County.  The nomination for the Judd Hill Cotton Gin is being submitted under the multiple-property listing “Get Down the Shovel and the Hoe!:  Cotton and Rice Farm History and Architecture in the Arkansas Delta, 1900-1955.”

ELABORATION

Poinsett County was created on February 28, 1838, in accordance with an act of the General Assembly, and was formed from land taken from Greene County.[1]  Although settlement of the county began in the 1820s, it was slow through much of the nineteenth century, since many of the settlers came from the hilly parts of the eastern U.S. and wanted to settle in similar areas.  As a result of the lack of settlement, many of the early settlers in Poinsett County endured an isolated existence.[2]

Surprisingly, agriculture played a lesser role to the timber industry in the early economy of Poinsett County.  Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas stated that, “At present, and for many years, the lumbering industry of Poinsett County is and will be a great source of income, especially to those engaged in the business, and to those owning the timber.  There are a number of saw-mills here engaged in cutting the timber into lumber, for which the shipping facilities are excellent.”[3]  On the other hand, in 1880 there were only 297 farms in Poinsett County with 7,979 acres of improved land that produced only 1,514 bales of cotton.(By contrast, there were 87,133 bushels of corn produced in Poinsett County the same year.)[4]

The community of Judd Hill took its name from its founder, Orange Judd Hill, also known as O.J., a wealthy banker and businessman in Kansas City, Missouri.Hill owned the Trumann Cooperage Company, which bought the 5,800-acre tract of land south of Trumann in 1925.  However, in only a few years, Hill took outright title to the land himself.  Even in the 1920s when Hill purchased the land, it was still heavily forested, and the timber was valuable to him for use in his larger cooperage operation in Springfield, Missouri.  Even though he supervised a lot of the work in Poinsett County, Hill still spent much of his time in Missouri with his wife, Lina, and adopted daughter, Esther.  In the early years of the Judd Hill Plantation’s existence, O.J. also had help from his brother, William.[5]

Hill retained control of the plantation for only a few years, however.  As with many other people, the Depression brought serious financial problems to Hill and by 1931 he owed almost $34,000 in delinquent drainage taxes alone.  The financial problems that Hill was enduring in the early 1930s eventually led him to transfer control of the plantation to his daughter, Esther, and her husband, Samuel Caryl Chapin, a civil engineer.  Hill was able to persuade Chapin to manage the farm and timber business in 1930, and Chapin’s engineering experience was well-suited to clearing and draining the plantation’s land and placing it under cultivation.Hill transferred title to the property jointly to Esther and Chapin in June 1933.[6]

The land that the Judd Hill Plantation occupied was ideal for farming, and the quality of the soil in the area had long been well known.According to Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas, it said of the soil in the Judd Hill area that, “In Township 10 and 11 north, Ranges 5 and 6 east, there is a peculiar soil of extraordinary fertility, occupying a portion of the St. Francis bottom, known as the ‘black wax land,’ which was formerly overflowed by the backwater of the Mississippi.  This soil will produce from fifty to seventy-five bushels of corn to the acre.”[7]

The Chapins soon turned the plantation around into a large and prosperous farming operation.  By 1934, there were 3,200 acres of land being cultivated with 1,605 acres of corn and 1,296 acres of cotton.  The rest of the cultivated acreage was used for oats and other grains along with tenants’ gardens.  (There were 68 African-American families who were tenants on the plantation in 1934 and they tended plots of 5 to 40 acres.  There were also at least eight white families who rented a total of approximately 400 acres.)  By the end of the 1930s the Chapins were able to make enough of a profit at Judd Hill to pay off the $96,000 mortgage.

The success of the Judd Hill Plantation under the Chapin’s ownership was due to a couple of factors.  First, Sam and Esther both took very active roles in the management of the enterprise.  Sam was known for his hands-on management style, and he was often seen touring the plantation on horseback or by truck.  Esther, on the other hand, worked tirelessly in the plantation’s store and office.  Second, the plantation was a very diversified operation, and its 1934 ledger had entries for a store, gin, sawmill, shingle mill, animal feed business, and a blacksmith shop.[8]

It is likely that the Judd Hill Cotton Gin was built c.1930 by Hill or Chapin during the initial round of improvements on the plantation.  It is known that a gin existed at the location by 1934, according to the plantation’s ledgers, and the gin also appears on the General Highway and Transportation Map, Poinsett County, Arkansas published in 1936.[9]  Although the use of brick construction for the cotton gin was unusual in Arkansas (less than five examples of brick cotton gins are known to exist), it was an important choice since the threat of fire was a constant danger in cotton gins.

The 1940s continued to be a prosperous time on the plantation.By the early part of the decade, Chapin had continued to further diversify the plantation’s activities, adding a cattle herd to the operations.  By 1948, the Chapins had a net profit of $71,000 on the plantation, most of it a result of cattle income, and the net worth of the business approached $600,000.  Also during the late 1940s, Chapin reduced the plantation’s size to 4,700 acres by selling off the land east of Arkansas Highway 463 (U.S. 63 at the time).[10]  However, even with the decrease in the plantation’s size, the Judd Hill Plantation was one of the largest contiguous farms in Poinsett County, and one of the premiere farms in northeast Arkansas.[11]

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, sharecroppers, renters and day laborers remained extremely important in the operation of the plantation.  However, times were changing on large farms throughout the area, including Judd Hill Plantation.  After World War II, many rural workers migrated to urban areas for jobs, especially after education for African-Americans became more accessible.  As a result, many large farms became much more mechanized by the1960s.  Although only a few sharecroppers remained at Judd Hill, the Chapins still prospered.  At the end of 1964, for example, the Chapins’ net profit was $60,000 on assets worth about $1.2 million.[12]

Although the last sharecroppers retired from the plantation in the early 1970s, it remained a prosperous and diversified operation during the decade.  In 1979, the Chapins produced 533 bales of cotton on only 470 acres.  Chapin also continued to grow other crops, including wheat, milo, corn, and soybeans, and still maintained one of the best beef cattle herds in the region.  Eight families continued to rent a total of 1,000 acres on the plantation in the 1970s, which increased its cotton production.  In fact, the plantation produced so much cotton that it had outgrown its own ginning capacity and most of the cotton was taken to the Taylor and Stuckey gin in nearby McCormick for processing.[13]  Although it is not known when the Judd Hill Cotton Gin was stopped being used, it was likely in the 1970s or 1980s.

In addition to the retirement of the sharecroppers, the 1970s and 1980s brought additional changes to the Judd Hill Plantation.  Samuel Chapin died in 1976, and the management of the plantation passed to his wife, who continued to work in the office and store, and the oldest of their three grandchildren, also named Judd.  They operated the plantation cooperatively until 1983, when Judd moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, as a result of management disputes.

During the mid-1980s, as Esther’s health declined, there were disruptions in the farm’s operation, and many of the decisions were made by court-appointed receivers.  However, in 1985, Esther Chapin did establish the Judd Hill Foundation for the “purpose of research, experimentation and the dissemination of information to the public on progressive techniques in farming.  These include activities such as agricultural economics, enhanced seed types, fertilization, irrigation and the control of weeds and pests.  Judd Hill is also committed to research in soil and water conservation.”  After Esther Chapin’s death in 1991, she left her entire estate to the foundation, which included the 4,000-acre plantation.[14]

The Judd Hill Foundation still actively farms 3,800 acres of the plantation’s land, which is planted in cotton.  Many companies, including Monsanto, Deltapine, Stoneville, and Aventis, pay to place their products in the farm’s experiments.  Various products are planted side by side to determine how each one performs under the same conditions, and the results of each season’s studies are published after the harvest.  Techniques and products used on the plantation are also made public through the annual Judd Hill Cotton Technology Field Day.  All proceeds from the plantation are given to two primary beneficiaries, the University of Arkansas Foundation and the Arkansas State University Foundation, where part of it has been used to establish the Judd Hill Chair of Environmental Biology.[15]

As the number of cotton gins steadily declines across Arkansas, intact cotton gins will become rarer and more significant as reflections of Arkansas’s agricultural history.  The Judd Hill Cotton Gin, with its unusual brick cotton gin, is an excellent example of an early-twentieth-century cotton gin.  Although no longer used, it remains a wonderful monument to the agricultural heritage of Judd Hill and Poinsett County and its legacy continues on through the work of the Judd Hill Foundation.



[1] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas.Chicago:Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889, p. 570.

[2] Ibid, p. 576.

[3] Ibid, p. 575.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Morgan, Sam.Oral History of the Judd Hill Plantation in Poinsett County, Arkansas:Summary of Findings.Prepared in June 1997 and found at:http://agri.astate.edu/Ag%20Bus%20Conference/agbusconf04/juddhillhistory.htm.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas.Chicago:Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889, p. 574.

[8] Morgan, Sam.Oral History of the Judd Hill Plantation in Poinsett County, Arkansas:Summary of Findings.Prepared in June 1997 and found at:http://agri.astate.edu/Ag%20Bus%20Conference/agbusconf04/juddhillhistory.htm.

[9] Ibid and Arkansas State Highway Commission.General Highway and Transportation Map, Poinsett County, Arkansas.1936.

[10] Morgan, Sam.Oral History of the Judd Hill Plantation in Poinsett County, Arkansas:Summary of Findings.Prepared in June 1997 and found at:http://agri.astate.edu/Ag%20Bus%20Conference/agbusconf04/juddhillhistory.htm.

[11] Information on the Judd Hill Foundation found at:http://www.juddhillplantation.org/foundation.html.

[12] Morgan, Sam.Oral History of the Judd Hill Plantation in Poinsett County, Arkansas:Summary of Findings.Prepared in June 1997 and found at:http://agri.astate.edu/Ag%20Bus%20Conference/agbusconf04/juddhillhistory.htm.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Information on the Judd Hill Foundation found at:http://www.juddhillplantation.org/foundation.html.

[15] Robinson, Elton.“Farming with an Audience.”Delta Farm Press.6 October 2000, Found at:http://deltafarmpress.com/mag/farming_farming_audience/.

SIGNIFICANCE

The Judd Hill Cotton Gin, which was built c.1930, is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C with statewide significance as the only example of a cotton gin in Judd Hill, and as an unusual example of a cotton gin built out of brick.  The Judd Hill Cotton Gin is also being nominated to the National Register under Criterion A for its associations with the role of cotton production in the agricultural history of Judd Hill and Poinsett County.  The nomination for the Judd Hill Cotton Gin is being submitted under the multiple-property listing “Get Down the Shovel and the Hoe!:  Cotton and Rice Farm History and Architecture in the Arkansas Delta, 1900-1955.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arkansas State Highway Commission.  General Highway and Transportation Map, Poinsett County, Arkansas.  1936.

Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas.  Chicago:  Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

Information on the Judd Hill Foundation found at:  http://www.juddhillplantation.org/foundation.html.

Morgan, Sam.  Oral History of the Judd Hill Plantation in Poinsett County, Arkansas:  Summary of Findings.  Prepared in June 1997 and found at:  http://agri.astate.edu/Ag%20Bus%20Conference/agbusconf04/juddhillhistory.htm.

Robinson, Elton.  “Farming with an Audience.”  Delta Farm Press.  6 October 2000, Found at:  http://deltafarmpress.com/mag/farming_farming_audience/.