Bridge Effect on Cotton Production

Cotton was not the only cash crop grown by farmers in Bastrop County during the late 1800s, but it was a major cash crop. Consequently, more information about cotton production during that time has been preserved. This section focuses on cotton production only because of the availability of information, but it is important to keep in mind that, because it was not the only cash crop, it was also not the only crop that farmers transported to market in Elgin by way of the Lower Elgin Road bridge. In addition to wagontrains carrying loads of cotton to Elgin on this route, many wagon loads of corn and sweet potatoes also likely went over the Lower Elgin Road bridge enroute to the railroads in Elgin.

Agricultural documentation describes the cotton yield per acre as ranging from slightly less than 1 bale/acre to more than 1 bale/acre in Bastrop County (Winston et al. 1908). Information from the Texas Cotton Gin Museum specifies that one wagonload of field-picked cotton is equal to one ginned bale. Although little information about the smaller farms in the Cedar Valley, Union Hill, and Utley communities currently exists, it is possible to make several production estimates from the Coats and Barton farms in Utley based on the size of those operations. If the Coats and Barton farms planted half of the land in cotton in those days (approximately 450 and 1,000 acres, respectively), then those two farms alone would have produced roughly 1,450 wagonloads of field-picked cotton to be transported to the gin in Bastrop by way of Nash’s Ferry or to one of several gins in Elgin by way of the bridge. This estimate considers only two farms in Utley; the inclusion of other Utley farms and the farms in Cedar Valley and Union Hill would provide a significantly larger number if information about the other farms were available. This estimate also does not include traffic from the “great wagontrains of cotton” cited in the Texas Historical Records Survey: this estimate is for the cotton production of only the Coats and Barton farms. For all farmers transporting their cotton crops, however, the bridge route provided the shortest distance with free, continuous passage over the creek to market.

The cotton production of Bastrop County increased dramatically between 1880 and 1900. In 1880, the total cotton production of Bastrop County was 14,714 bales; by 1900, it was 41,730. The increased production was probably not directly tied to the construction of the bridge; however, because of the comparative ease of getting the crop to market attributable to the bridge and the expanded market brought about by the railroad system, farmers—particularly those with small farming operations—may have been encouraged to increase the number of acres planted in cotton.

The construction of the bridge established Lower Elgin/Coats Road as a trade route, providing a bidirectional effect on the economic and agricultural development of the Utley, Cedar Valley, and Union Hill communities and on the economic and business development of Elgin. The farmers of these communities would have benefited from easier access to markets for their crops, and Elgin would have benefitted from the development of cotton gins, stores, and other businesses to support the farmers and farm production.

May 2016