History and images have been compiled from various sources including, among others, the 1987 National Register of Historic Places, Stack & Beasley's 1902 Sketches of Monroe and Union County, Union County Public Library (Patricia Poland, Genealogy & Local History Librarian), the Heritage Room Photo Collection, North Carolina Map Collection, Rootsweb - An Ancestry.com Community and Ancestry.com family histories.

Early Cotton Trade

See below cotton-related text from 1982 interview with "J.Ray" Shute

John Raymond Shute II
Wayne Durrill, interviewer - June 25, 1982
Southern Oral History Program Collection
Documenting the American South

“….The primary crops were cotton and corn. You had to have the corn to feed the mules to raise the cotton. That was about the cycle that was operated.

“….The merchants were in favor of roads and good roads—all-weather roads, they were called—where the farmer could bring his cotton to town to the market and carry his supplies back without getting hub-deep in mud in the wintertime and covered with dust in the summertime.
“....The cotton platform was not a facility that bought and sold cotton. It was the official weight station of the county. That was owned and operated by the county. Now there was and is—it doesn't function anymore—a Union County Cotton Warehouse, which was a separate corporation, and they stored cotton. But we had cotton buyers—they were called brokers—all over Monroe.

“You'd come up here in the fall of the year, and you couldn't drive a buggy or later a car up Hayne Street or Jefferson or Franklin Streets or this Windsor Street because of the cotton wagons. I mean they just choked the thoroughfares.

“Well, those buyers would give a man a bid on his cotton. If it was accepted, he gave him a ticket. He took that ticket and his bales of cotton to the cotton platform. There it was officially weighed, and the cotton weigher was an official of the county. He got the correct weight and left the cotton there in the name of this buyer who had bought it and got a certified ticket for the weight. Then that cotton was picked up by the Cotton Warehouse Company and stored as the property of the buyer that bought it and would be moved about and shipped and this, that, and the other on orders from the buyers. Then the farmer would go back to the man that bought it with his ticket and get a check.

“That was the function of the cotton platform. In the fall of the year, it was filled with cotton. They couldn't move it into the warehouse fast enough to keep the platform pretty well open, so that whole area out there was always choked up with wagons. That was on Planter Street.

"…..they'd take those cotton checks as a rule and go to the wholesaler that had been supplying them through the year and pay up his bills. That'd be his first thing. The second thing they'd do, his family nearly always came to town with him when he brought his cotton, and they would do their shopping. The women folks would buy piece goods and buttons and thread and needles and things that were needed around the home. Later they'd go to the store and buy what was called fancy groceries. This would be a small amount of jarred and canned pickles in jars and jellies, not many, because most of that stuff was done at home, the canning and things like that. But then this farmer would put in, usually, in those first checks—the first loads that he'd bring in—supplies that he needed like flour and coffee and salt and sugar and staples. He would buy those there, and Monroe became quite a trading center. We had some large stores here.

"…..forwarding agents in Cheraw and Camden would arrange and make contact with merchants and others to ship goods, mostly cotton, down the river and to bring supplies back up the river. You can imagine what-all was brought up the river, not only supplies for stores, but this was open country and pioneer country, and they brought in all manner of things: spinning wheels, furniture, almost everything. It was a thriving industry. Then there were companies, primarily in Charleston, that handled the trade from there on up, coastwise shipping. The greatest shipping merchant in Charleston was Henry Laurens. He had a fleet of ships. By the way, Laurens County, South Carolina, is named for him. So these were the contacts that John Shute made, and it worked both ways.

“Then he had his contacts with merchants in Charlotte and here in Monroe, and he brought their supplies to them, too. It was necessary in those days to have companies like his own, wholesale and retail groceries, to in turn supply these little rural stores, say, twenty by sixty feet, out in the rural areas that furnished the fundamental and basic supplies for farmers. When they got ready to buy things like fertilizer or flour or heavy groceries or farm supplies, they'd come into the store with their wagons and load up and carry them back to their little stores. They'd usually buy on credit during the year, and then in the fall when they sold their cotton, which was sold in Monroe, they would pay up their bills and start all over again. That built up Monroe as a trading center at a relatively early period. That's one reason, I'm convinced, that Monroe later became a railroad center, because of the fact that Monroe was the highest cotton market in the country. Not only that, but we had four or five large wholesale grocery stores here. We had a large wholesale hardware. As a matter of fact, we had two that merged just shortly after the turn of the century and formed what is now the Monroe Hardware, which at that time and today is the largest wholesale hardware in the two Carolinas. They had branch warehouses in both states. So this type of thing built Monroe into an early and very successful trading center, and that is responsible for the growth that we had." 

Street photos from The Heritage Room

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