Little Rock, AR Part II: Plantation Agriculture Museum
Another suggestion that our friends Marilyn and Alan had for a good place to eat in the Little Rock area was Cotham's. Cotham's has a restaurant in the city (Cotham's in the City), but the one located in the little town of Scott about 8 or 10 miles east of Little Rock (Cotham's Mercantile) has a lot more character. Cotham's Mercantile is located in an old general store that was built in 1917. Except for new siding, the building looks like it has changed little since since it was first built.
In 1984, a small eating area was set up in the old general store to serve lunch to local farmers. When the restaurant was discovered by several prominent politicians, most notably then-governor Bill Clinton and U. S. Senator David Pryor, Cotham's became THE place to eat. Inside, the walls are lined with old display cases and merchandise that might have once been sold in the general store. There are also old tools, posters, and a 1950s TV set.
Cotham's claim to fame is the Hubcap Burger, which is named for its large size. They are also known for their onion rings, fried green tomatoes, fried pies, and Mississippi Mud Pie. This place is a definite candidate for the Food Network program Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that we like to watch. It has the character, popularity, and menu (plenty of good-tasting, but not-so-good-for-you fried foods) that would fit perfectly with the show's theme.
We all had the same thing. Each couple shared a Hubcap Burger, an order of fried green tomatoes, an order of onion rings, and a piece of Mississippi Mud Pie.
The burger was big, juicy, and delicious. The onion rings were sweet and crispy, and the fried green tomatoes were crispy on the outside with an interesting, tart flavor. The Mississippi Mud Pie is a layer of ice cream between two layers of chocolate cake, smothered in hot fudge sauce, and served with dollops of whipped cream. Yum!
Right down the road from the restaurant is the Plantation Agriculture Museum. We saw the museum on our way to the restaurant, and we decided to stop after lunch. The museum is operated by the Arkansas State Park system, and with an admission fee of only $3, it was definitely worth the stop. The museum traces the history of cotton agriculture in Arkansas from statehood in 1836 through WWII. The building in which the main part of the museum is housed was built in 1912 as a general store by Conoway Scott who was the son of William Scott, the area's original settler in the 1800s.
In the 1960s, Robert L. Dortch, a plantation owner in Scott, bought the building and turned it into a museum. The museum grew to contain thousands of artifacts until it closed in 1978, 6 years after the death of Robert Dortch. The museum was neglected for the next 7 years, and many of the artifacts were damaged or were reclaimed by their original owners. In 1985, the state approved funding to purchase the land and to renovate the museum, and the museum was reopened in 1989.
Cotton was, and is, grown on the flat land in the eastern and southern areas of Arkansas. In the early days, it was grown by hand labor, most of which was supplied by slaves. After the Civil War, sharecroppers took over the growing of cotton assisted by mules pulling plows and other equipment. The next photo shows a variety of farming implements from plows (in the foreground), a fertilizer spreader (with the galvanized can on top), a seeder (with the rusty can on top), and a cultivator (with red handles).
There is also an early cotton gin used to separate the seeds from the fibers.
Outside, there is a display of two steam traction engines. These machines were too large and heavy for tasks like plowing, but they could be driven to various locations to provide power to drive other machinery. The power was transferred from the large, light-colored pulley near the top by means of a long drive belt.
There is also a small collection of unrestored tractors. Tractors started replacing mules in the 1910s and 1920s.
A small patch of cotton plants on the grounds of the museum allowed us to get a close look at the attractive blossoms...
...and at cotton bolls. The seeds and fibers develop in the bolls, which will open later on as the bolls ripen to reveal the snowy-white cotton inside.
Also on the property is a building housing the restored and reconstructed Dortch cotton gin from the 1920s. Inside the building, a large, two-cylinder diesel engine drove a maze of belts, pulleys, and shafts.
The belts and shafts, in turn, drove things like blowers that were used to move the cotton, a baler that compressed the ginned cotton into 500 pound bales, and the the dual-stand cotton gin shown in the photo below.
The museum also preserves Dortch Cotton Seed Warehouse No. 5. Built in 1948, the building was used to store cotton seed. The warehouse was built with angled walls that correspond to the angle at which cotton seeds naturally form piles.
The next photo shows the inside of the warehouse. Of course, the warehouse would have been almost completely filled with seed back in the day.
It was interesting to see the Plantation Agriculture Museum and learn more about growing cotton. Last year when we visited Memphis, we went to the Cotton Museum at the old Memphis Cotton Exchange and learned about the history of cotton and how it was graded and sold. Speaking of Memphis, we're headed there again this year.
It was great to spend time with Marilyn and Alan and to get to know them better and to be able to encourage them in their plans for full-timing. They had to leave on Sunday so Alan could go to work on Monday, but we hung around until Tuesday. Look for our next post, and we'll tell you about this year's visit to Memphis.