Heart of Louisiana: Frogmore Plantation

Frogmore -- It will be late morning before the sun dries the dew soaked cotton so the picking can resume. It's harvest time in the fields around Frogmore Plantation, a nearly 200-year-old farm in the Delta country of northeast Louisiana

"Cotton came in big after the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 and worked its way across the south," says Lynette Tanner.

Tanner and her husband Buddy own and operate this 1800-acre cotton farm and gin, which takes truckloads of picked cotton, removes the seeds, and bundles the fiber into bales.

"Cotton has about 25 to 30 seeds in each boll, and that's b-o-l-l -- not ball of cotton, but a boll of cotton. And so we have to remove those seeds in order to be able to comb the fiber at the spinning mill to make that into yarn."

Frogmore tells the story of cotton farming, going back to a time when each cotton boll was picked by hand -- the hands of slaves. Their stark homes are preserved on the plantation. In slave days, two families shared a single cabin. Later these structures became the homes of sharecroppers.

"Very austere, not a great deal of furniture, but then of course your people worked from daylight to dark. And so they had maybe a table, maybe a chest to roll the blankets up and put them in the daytime. Children slept on the floor, the parents had beds," Tanner tells us.

There is a church that was built on the property just after the Civil War. This was the place of worship for sharecroppers.

"That building dates around 1870. It's all hand hewn," says Tanner.

There is also collection of hand tools and the horse-drawn machines from the early days of cotton farming.

Back in the late 1800's this cotton plantation went high tech. They got one of the very first steam-powered cotton gins.

An old steam engine turned a series of large belts that mechanized the process of ginning cotton. One gin at Frogmore dates from 1884.

"The Smithsonian Institution says that is one of the rarest cotton gins left in America, 'cause it's a Munger gin," says Buddy Tanner. "He was the first person to put a fan in the gin to move the cotton, to take the sucker pipe and suck it off the wagons."

This gin could handle about 15 bales of cotton a day. A mile down the road, the Tanners have another state of the art gin, run by computers, that produces a thousand bales a day.

Buddy Tanner tells us, "We remove the lint from the seed, it's the same thing it did in 1884."

Cotton is still one of Louisiana's most important crops. At Frogmore, its history comes to life.

"You can almost sense what the people were doing back in that time frame. It's important to me to understand why their lives changes and how they interacted," says Lynette Tanner.
For the past two centuries the lives here all centered around the farming of cotton.

The cotton harvest and ginnine operations will continue for the next few weeks at Frogmore. You can stop by anytime for a historical tour of the cotton plantation.

For more information, go online to http://frogmoreplantation.com/default.asp .