Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill

Waco’s rapid development established it as one of the most significant urban centers of the South by the late nineteenth century. Home to one of the longest-spanning suspension bridges in the country, the once small frontier town owed a great portion of its success to the cotton industry. The strong agricultural tradition established by Stephen F. Austin and Waco’s earliest settlers in the mid-nineteenth century flourished into an international trade system. Farmers grew, ginned, and shipped this “white gold” not only throughout Texas, but also to Europe, South America, and India. Waco reigned in the South as the “King of Cotton” until the onset of the Great Depression.

By 1900, cottonseed was second only to lumber as the most important cash crop in Texas. Mills sprang up all over the state as Texas established itself as the leading processor of cottonseed in the nation, and one of the largest suppliers of cooking oil, vegetable shortening, margarine, and salad oil—byproducts of cottonseed oil.

On January 29, 1910, J. T. Davis established Brazos Valley Cotton Oil, Inc., in Waco. The main operations of the company took place at a mill located on the block between Webster Avenue and Jackson Avenue in the heart of Waco’s business district.

From its onset, the locally owned mill contributed enormously to the economic wealth of the city by purchasing thousands of tons of cottonseed annually from farmers, and employing up to seventy-five men. The railway ran adjacent to the mill, bringing in shipments of cotton from local gins in order to be processed. Workers then extracted oil from the cottonseed to be used for both culinary and industrial purposes. After the mill’s completely modernized machinery processed the seed, the oil was shipped all over the world. In order to prevent unnecessary waste, the mill sold unused meal as cattle feed.

Davis grew the company quickly, and by 1924 had already acquired a second company, the Valley Mills Cotton Oil Company. Though the Great Depression marked the decline of Waco’s cotton industry, business at the cotton oil mill continued for many years. The firm faced several setbacks in the mid-twentieth century, such as the fire which erupted in the mill in 1943, destroying the hull house and mixed feed plant. Yet operations continued, and even flourished. By 1950, workers completed construction on the two 120-foot-tall silos which today are noted as some of Waco’s most notable landmarks.

The latter half of the century saw a turn in the cotton mill’s fortunes. A serious drought followed by widespread Central Texas flooding in 1957 led to sporadic production, and in September the Small Business Administration granted the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company a disaster loan. However, the firm was unable to recover, and in July of 1958, stockholders sold the company to David C. Blintliff Interests of Houston. In the mid-1960s, ownership of the plant changed hands again, and the mill served as a storage facility for JPM Feeds. The facility sat vacant in the 1990s, although the Murphys, owners of JPM Feeds, retained ownership of the property.

In 2014, well-known television personalities and Wacoans Chip and Joanna Gaines purchased the mill from Gary Murphy with a vision to restore and repurpose the historic site. After receiving approval from the city, the pair began construction work on Magnolia Market, a $1.4 million project which was completed in October of 2015. Though the festival marketplace offers modern additions such as a retail showroom, a monthly antique and craft market, and a food truck court, the Gaineses are working to retain the historic integrity of the site through efforts such as the preservation of the original silos.

For nearly half a century, the mill bolstered Waco’s economy through its support of local farmers, provision of jobs, and international commerce. Today, the adaptive reuse and preservation efforts of the Gaineses ensure that the mill will retain this role at the heart of the city’s economic development for many years to come. 

Images

Brazos Valley

Brazos Valley

This early photograph of the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company shows the mill long before the construction of the two enormous silos which today serve as city landmarks. Though a smaller company at that point, the mill still contirbuted signifiantly to the city's economy through its support of local farmers. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Enormous Industry

Enormous Industry

The sheer size of the cotton oil mill facility played a large role in its ability to contribute to the economic wealth of the city. When portions of the mill were repainted in 1924, a local newspaper ran a short article marveling at the more than 100 gallons of pain required to coat "two of the largest frame business buildings in Waco." | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Cottonseed

Cottonseed

Raw cottonseed is made up of three parts when it moves from the gin to the mill: linters, hulls, and kernels. Each part of the cottonseed is used in various ways after it is processed. For instance, linters are often used to produce plastics, propellants, cosmetics, and paper currency. The hulls are most used for livestock feed, and the kernels are crushed to produce cottonseed oil and meal. | Source: Image courtesy of the Library of Congress | Creator: Russell Lee View File Details Page

Nationally Recognized

Nationally Recognized

After the process of obtaining the cottonseed oil was ocmpelte, workers prepared products such as cottonseed meal, cake, hulls, linters, and mixed feed. The meal and mixed feed were sold throughout the nation under the trade name Longhorn. | Source: Image courtesy of the Library of Congress | Creator: Russell Lee View File Details Page

Swift Transportation

Swift Transportation

The proximity of the railway allowed the mill to receive and send out shipments with swiftness and ease. This no doubt was a large help to the development of the international aspect of the Waco mill's trade. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Full Capacity

Full Capacity

The mill purchased such large amounts of cottonseed that the workers placed it in storehouses upon its arrival until it could be processed. As business expanded, so did the size of the mill. By 1938, the capacity of the storehouse reached 6,500 tons of cottonseed. | Source: Image courtesy of the Library of Congress | Creator: Russell Lee View File Details Page

An Innovative Firm

An Innovative Firm

A 1938 Waco Tribune-Herald article praised the cotton mill for its contribution to the wealth of the city. The Waco cotton firm no doubt stood out from others in the state due to its large team of workers, modernized machinery, and innovative research facility. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Pressing Process

Pressing Process

For many years, a hydraulic press served as the primary means of obtaining cottonseed oil. Horizontal steel plates pressed the kernels until oil flowed down into the troughs below. Before workers shipped it to a refinery, the crude oil was kept in tanks in order to allow some of the fine particles of meal to settle to the bottom. | Source: Image courtesy of the Library of Congress | Creator: Russell Lee View File Details Page

New Technology

New Technology

The turn of the twentieth century brought new technology to increase the efficiency of the cottonseed oil production process and eliminate waste. The invention of new machines decreased the cost of production and increased productivity. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Economic Center

Economic Center

The company's location in Waco's central business district reflected the city's economic reliance upon the cotton industry. Despite the decline of the importance of cotton, due largely to the diversification of agriculture, cottonseed oil production remained strong at the mill long into the mid-twentieth century. The silos at the center of this aerial photograph mark the mill's central location in the city. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Windy Drum Studios View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/97.

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