Big Cotton

Story By: Tysonn McKinnon.

Walk into the Permanent Gallery at the Legacy Museum on Main in downtown LaGrange, Ga., and you’ll see many odd and wondrous things: a covered bridge inside of a building. A personalized cash register, circa 1985, formerly belonging to local business magnate Mr. Fuller E. Callaway. A smiling musket-wielding female mannequin. But surely the most bizarre thing to be seen on display here is what is believed to be the world’s oldest bale of cotton.
Encased in glass and sitting unpretentiously among the other exhibits in the room is what looks like a very large, dirty white and green cotton ball.

“That bale of cotton is supposedly the oldest known bale of cotton,” said Shannon Gavin-Harris, Troup County Historical Society archivist. “And it’s just this big bale of cotton”
Not much information is documented about the cotton bale. According to a 1904 photo on the Georgia State University library’s website, the bale stands taller than 5 feet and appears to have been moldy for more than a century.
“Our museum doesn’t really own the bale,” Gavin-Harris said. “It is on loan from the Georgia State Museum. That museum closed, and [the] bale was offered to this museum because its home was Troup County. It has been a part of the permanent exhibit since 2008.”

According to Gavin-Harris, Christopher Columbus “C.C.” Jones, Sr. grew the bale, weighing 612 pounds, on his Troup County plantation in 1870. In 1904, the LaGrange Reporter ran an article on March 4, explaining that Jones received a bronze medal at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition for the bale’s quality and age.
“Even in 1904, it was considered the oldest bale in the U.S.,” she said.
However, there is contention for the title. According to a manuscript held by the New Orleans Public Library, a document entitled “New Orleans Cotton Exchange Records, 1880-1955,” a bale of cotton belonging to Louisiana State University was allegedly produced in 1862, eight years earlier than the Georgia bale.
Information could not be found as to whether the Louisiana bale still exists.
Whether the Legacy Museum on Main is indeed in possession of the world’s oldest bale of cotton or not, it is unquestionably a spectacular feature among many other unique and remarkable artifacts.
The museum is located at 136 Main St. in LaGrange, Ga. It is open Monday through Saturday, including some holiday, and is free to the general public. For more information, visit www.legacymuseumonmain.org.