Cotton

Tour curated by: Baylor University Institute for Oral History & The Texas Collection

Chartered in 1856, Waco began as a tiny frontier town on the banks of a river which was often too volatile to cross. Despite its dangers, the river served as an ideal water source for farming. The cotton industry developed as farmers realized the potential of the fertile soil in the area resulting from the intersection of the Blackland and Grand Prairies. The opening of the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River in 1870 and arrival of the railroad facilitated trade, leading to large-scale industrialization of the cotton industry. By 1885, Waco served as the largest inland cotton market in Texas.

Cotton reigned as king of Waco’s economy for half a century, affecting nearly every aspect of community life. From the toil of slave laborers who picked crops in the fields, to the establishment of multiple railway lines for ease of transportation, to the creation of yearly extravagant festivals honoring “white gold,” cotton has much to say about the history of Waco.

This tour highlights some of Waco’s landmark sites related to cotton and invites you to explore the way in which the cash crop shaped this community’s history.

Locations for Tour

For nearly half a century, cotton reigned as king of Waco's economy, establishing the once small frontier town as a thriving urban center known throughout the country. The area later named Waco held a long history of agricultural pursuits…

In the years leading up to 1870, the Brazos River proved to be both a blessing and a curse to the city of Waco. During that time, no bridges spanned the eight hundred miles of river flowing through Central Texas, forcing cattle drivers moving up the…

When Stephen F. Austin led the first Anglo-American settlers into Texas including areas along the Brazos River, they brought with them their strong agricultural tradition based on cotton-growing. From the period of annexation until well into the…

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…

Near the turn of the twentieth century, a booming cotton industry was quickly establishing Waco as one of the major urban centers of the South, encouraging many residents to more readily invest and spend their money locally. In 1890, local stone…