Those in agricultural education are struggling to maintain a flow of young men into the farm scene so that the industry may continue to develop and improve.
The Galveston News of Nov. 4, 1875 contained the following news item about Grapeland.
“We are having warm, dry weather, which is of great benefit to the second growth of cotton. It is maturing and opening rapidly, and with favorable weather picking 41 go on until Christmas.
The cotton produced in this section of Houston County grades better than last year, when it was generally low middling to good ordinary. The shipment of cotton for the fiscal year 1874-1875 was 1827 bales, whereas this year it will exceed 4000.
Large invoices of goods are being received daily from Galveston. Calicoes, domestics, etc.which were sold previously for 12 1/2 cents, can now be had for eight, nine and ten cents, according to quality.
There has been a general reduction of 25 percent in prices of merchandise to compete with Crockett. Our merchants are paying higher prices for cotton than the merchants in Crockett, but are not paying beyond its actual value. Considerable cotton which heretofore was sold there, now finds its market at Grapeland, though several cotton buyers are out of business this year on account of their loss column adding by a few thousand dollars more than their gain.
The pigeons have not as yet made their appearance, and it is believed that the mast will be unmolested this year.”(Mast by definition is nuts such as acorns accumulated on the forest floor and is often used as feed for hogs.)
Most of the settlers of the Grapeland area came from the southern states and were accustomed to raising cotton as a money crop. The railroad site of Grapeland offered a new and better means of marketing cotton than the river transportation previously used. This faster means of marketing products made cash crops out of farm goods that previously had used only for home consumption.
The September, 1892 Crockett Courier reported that Grapeland had shipped 4330 bales of cotton and 1000 cases of eggs containing 30 dozen each. In 1893, E. F. Dunnam put in a sugar house preparatory to making sugar on a large scale. This was a growing industry. Mr. Dunnam also had a broom factory which offered a market for broom corn.
The 1890 papers mention the shipment of carloads of cattle, hogs, Irish potatoes, peaches, and lumber. One paper stated that Grapeland lumber was to be shipped to Brussels, Belgium for furniture-making. The editors of the early day papers spoke of ‘capitalists’ who came from the north to contract for the raising of certain crops. One of these crops was peaches. In 1905, Grapeland packed Elberta peaches night and day. They shipped ten carloads of peaches that year. The first carload of peaches was loaded by W. W. Lively, Lewis & Irwin, J. S. Yarborough and R. B. Edens. Grapeland took the medal for fine peaches at the World’s Fair. In the same 1905 report, Tom Dailey shipped two carloads of cattle to League City and Dave Walling reported the shipment of two carloads of watermelons, one to Chicago and one to Springfield, Mo. Mr. Walling also shipped one car of Irish potatoes to Galveston.
One crop that the farmers were encouraged to raise was tobacco. The orange bury soil of Houston County was especially suited to the growth of tobacco. In 1905, an estimated crop of 600 pounds of tobacco per acre was expected to be cut and had been contracted for at 15 cents per pound. This would yield the farmer 90.00 per acre. The editor of the Grapeland Messenger urged the farmers of cotton who were only getting 10.00 an acre for cotton to consider raising tobacco. He stated that growing tobacco required only half of the effort of a cotton crop.
1905 brought a development for agriculture that was destined to effect great changes. ‘A new type auto meant for farm work has recently been put on the market in Scotland. It is not only suitable for plowing, but can be adapted for cultivating and reaping. It will prepare the ground and sow the seed in one operation and can be operated at a better speed than a horse. It can cover from six to seven acre aday.’ How surprised our grandfathers would be to see us riding around on air-conditioned tractors that plow a half an acre at a time!
In the 1890s, the farmers of the county were active in trying to unite into an organization that would give them more and better bargaining power for the marketing of farm products and for the betterment of farm life. This organization was first called the Farmers Alliance and then the Farmers Union. J. F. Garrett representing the ‘Enon community and later Grapeland was the president of the Houston County Farmers Alliance (union) for many years. The paper speaks of exhibits to the state fair, world’s fair and of picnics attended by thousands of people that were sponsored by the Farmers Union.
The Grapeland area has always had some of the most progressive farmers in Texas. In the 1920s Grapeland was called ‘the egg basket of East Texas’ because eggs were being shipped by the carload. Diversification has always been the keynote of farming in north Houston County.
One of the first trial moves toward improving livestock was done by buying and distributing among the farmers two carloads of registered Jersey gilts. Next, eighteen registered Jersey bulls were bought and a bull circle was formed. The hog program failed, but the bull circle resulted in much better livestock.
In 1937, the Kraft Cheese Plant located here and the local dairy farmers furnished it with the raw products. In 1940, this plant was closed. This was a big setback to the farmers who had bought dairy cattle.
Through the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce and with the cooperation of the local farmers the above plant was reopened as a canning plant for green peas and tomatoes. This plant burned in 1950.
The Fair Beauty peach was another attempt at diversification which failed. There was not enough cold weather for the peach to flourish. The Bruce plum took its place and in 1949, thirty-seven cars of plums were loaded in Grapeland. At this same time the peanut was also making its way to the top as a money crop.
Many of the above programs were developed under the leadership of Mr. J. C. Shoultz who taught vocational agriculture in our school from 1924 until 1954. He worked with the A & M Extension Service, the Grapeland Chamber of Commerce and the local farmers to reach out for new and better ideas. Mr. Lewis Chandler began his association with agriculture in the Grapeland area in 1949 and expressed his gratitude to Mr. Shoultz for the help and advice he gave him when he was starting out in this community.
The agricultural situation in the Grapeland area in the period from 1949 to 1954 would have to be considered one of the most productive and progressive in the state. Peanuts, cotton, watermelons and peas were produced on a large scale. The Bruce plum industry was packing and shipping many railroad cars of plums. The plum growers had an active organization. The Grapeland Peanut Growers Association was a young organization, growing and providing some badly needed services to the farmers in the area. There were several commercial dairies and commercial poultry houses in the community.
Many of the farmers in the area were establishing beef cattle herds or improving their herds through the use of high quality, registered, or pure bred bulls of the recognized beef breeds. Farm labor was plentiful and most farmers had replaced horses and mules with one row and two-row farm tractors and equipment. A few of the old stationary threshing machines were still in operation but most farmers were using the combine. There were still many small family farms, but many of these farmers were beginning to leave the farm and seek employment in the cities.
The changes that have taken place in our area since that period are numerous. Farming has changed from a simple way of life to a large complicated industry. Land prices have gone up and up. Farm labor is no longer plentiful, but scarce and high-priced. The farmer must now invest large sums of money in equipment to do what people once did. Large, air-conditioned tractors have replaced the one and two-row tractors and equipment of the 1950s.
The peanut industry has had its ups and downs, but is still the major row crop in the Grapeland area. There are still some truck farming and orchard operations, but mainly for local sale and consumption. Watermelons continue to be an important crop. Most farming operations have become ranching operations and coastal Bermuda hay is one of the major ‘crops’. Peanut marketing facilities equipped for bulk handling and drying peanuts are operated by the Grapeland Peanut Growers Cooperative.
The farm scene has changed and is still changing, but the one factor that has remained constant is the stability and soundness of the industry. Through the good years and the not so good, the farmers of the area have made a major contribution to the community, state, and nation.
Those in agricultural education are struggling to maintain a flow of young men into the farm scene so that the industry may continue to develop and improve