The 1890s Heritage Village in the County Park in Dallas was born with the gift of the mule barn. Gaston County's 150-year "Sesquicentennial" was celebrated as the barn was set on its new site. The master plan for the Parks and Recreation Board had called for a historic area, and the GAMTRA organization had begun a very successful Cotton Ginning Days program. As more buildings were added to the area the plan evolved to portray our county's early textile history by interpreting the story of the cotton farmer's family life before they had a tractor.
So, what was it like to grow cotton using mules and a hand plow, a guano fertilizer spreader, and pure muscle power? Water was drawn up from the well or a nearby creek. Cotton pickers drug large sacks and picked by hand all day in the hot sun. The year's crop was delivered to the cotton gin in a large wagon.
Some cotton farmers couldn't afford to buy the land they farmed and had to rent from other landowners. They were our tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Life was pretty hard and success depended heavily on the weather.
The cotton farming family was virtually self-sufficient. They raised their own meat and cured it in the smokehouse. They had a chicken coop, a pigpen, and a vegetable garden. The children were expected to help in the fields, the garden, and the house. Electricity hadn't reached the countryside, so oil lamps, an icebox, and a wood-fired stove were used. Of course, there were the outhouse and the well.
Additional things that were needed by the farm family caused the building of other structures that eventually made a small village. There was a need for a blacksmith shop, a machine shop, a church, a school, a country store, and a post office. Even though these little crossroads towns were small, they allowed the farm families to lead a happy, interdependent, and close-knit existence. They helped each other in times of trouble and celebrated together during life's good times.
Times have changed over the last 125 years and modern technology has made some great advances. However, if we accept the present without remembering how we got here, we might forget all the hard work, the commitment to purpose, and the need for cooperation, that preceded our fast, frantic lifestyles of today. Let the 1890s Heritage Village increase our appreciation and meaningful understanding of the past as we plan for the future.