Because cotton was hard to plant, weed, pick, gin, and transport, its price was very high. Slaves had to spend long hours separating the seed and trash from the lint by hand. In the 1790s Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Engine, or “Gin” for short, enabling cotton to be cleaned and seeded 50 times faster. The gin revolutionized cotton production and farmers began to plant more of the crop. Cotton became less expensive and demand became much higher. Beginning about 1840, cotton became a leading cash crop for North Carolina farmers.
The Oak View Cotton Gin House was built by Job Wyatt around 1900, which allowed Oak View to now gin its own cotton. Oak View’s Gin House was a community cooperative – cotton farmers in the surrounding area could bring their cotton crop to be ginned in exchange for payment or working in the gin house. Powered by gasoline engines, the gins on the second floor ran day and night during the harvest season, separating the cotton lint from the seeds. After ginning, the cotton was packed into 500 to 700 pound bales and loaded on wagons to be taken to the market for sale. Today, the gin house functions as the cotton museum, interpreting the labor intensive process of cotton farming and manufacturing.
While Oak View’s acreage and tall trees make it seem secluded, if you stand in the cotton gin house, particularly during rush hour, the sounds of traffic from Interstate 440 are often easy to hear. To learn more about how I-440 impacted Oak View, dial 26.