SC History Trail

Early Cotton Press

Located adjacent to S.C. Highway 38, near Interstate 95 Exit 181A, near the town of Latta, the Early Cotton Press may be the oldest, original cotton press in the United States. While on private property, it may be viewed from a highway pullout.


Early Cotton Press
Highway 38, Latta, SC
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Site Description
Large scale cotton production in South Carolina diminished in the early 20th century due to changes in agriculture, demand, economics and a disastrous invasion by the boll weevil. The peak of cotton production in the state occurred in 1911 when 1.6 million bales were produced on more than 40 percent of the state's farmable land.

Cotton growing in South Carolina began after the American Revolution and was a major staple, and the foundation of the Palmetto State's economy from the early 19th century through World War II. Cotton was grown on a major scale in every region of the state except the coastal areas, and in 1820, almost half the cotton produced in the United States was grown in South Carolina.

Located in Dillon County's Oak Grove community, off S.C. Highway 38, near Interstate 95's Exit number 118A, the Early Cotton Press was first owned by area cotton planter John Bethea III and later by planter Henry Berry. A descendant of the Berry family had it moved from its original location at nearby Berry's Crossroads to this site in 1950. Built in 1798, some believe it is the oldest existing original cotton press in the United States.

It is constructed of doweled and pegged oak with a hand-made central oak screw that is 16 inches in diameter. "Buzzard wing" wooden booms support the machine. Powered by oxen or mules, it was used to press ginned cotton into bales for market. Located on private property - a Bicentennial Farm, the press may be viewed from a roadway pullout and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Once common throughout cotton country, it is the only known original cotton press from its era remaining in South Carolina.