Reflections by Sammy Way: Hundreds of bales of cotton in Sumter's Main Street became a fire hazard in 1892

When cotton was king

By SAMMY WAY
Posted 4/14/19

Reflections examines one of the most pressing concerns associated with the cotton harvest in the Sumter community. Early businessmen frequently engaged in purchasing cotton bales and piling them in the downtown streets prior to moving them to …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: Hundreds of bales of cotton in Sumter's Main Street became a fire hazard in 1892

When cotton was king

Posted

Reflections examines one of the most pressing concerns associated with the cotton harvest in the Sumter community. Early businessmen frequently engaged in purchasing cotton bales and piling them in the downtown streets prior to moving them to warehouses or processing plants. The author has made extensive use of an article published in 1892 in constructing this paper. Additional articles and photos were secured from The Item archives in production of this edition of Reflections.

In May of 1892 a letter was received at The Watchman and Southron from a concerned citizen who took exception to the mode and method used by many farmers, both from the Sumter community and other parts of the adjoining counties, to sell their cotton. The communique begins, "We believe that a majority of the citizens of Sumter and those who do business here but live elsewhere are agreed that the streets are not the place to pile cotton. Everyone knows how inconvenient it is to have the streets blocked, as Main Street constantly is during the fall. It is no uncommon occurrence to see Main Street from Republican Street (now Hampton Avenue) to below the Monaghan Block crowded with cotton bales and wagons and carts to the extent that it is impossible to pass with a vehicle.

"The cotton bales are piled on the edges of the pavements until it is often difficult for persons to make their way without coming into contact with the bales, and with ladies this was especially objectionable." (They were compelled to pass along the narrow lanes opened between the cotton bales at street crossings, where the often got their dresses full of lint, and their tempers ruffled, every hour in the day.) But the principal objection to having the busiest portion of Main Street turned into a cotton yard was the constant danger from fire which so great a quantity of cotton produces. Passersby are constantly smoking, and it only needs a touch from a lighted cigar to ignite a pile of cotton bales, and under favorable circumstances a conflagration may be started that would cause the destruction of a block or more of the business portion of the city. One fall a cotton fire was started by someone treading on a match lying on the pavement, and several bales of cotton were burned before the fire could be extinguished. If the wind had been high that day, the result would have been disastrous.

Calls came for action to be taken by the City Council for the abatement of the nuisance such as an ordinance prohibiting the unloading of cotton within the fire limits."