Historic cotton seed house will get second life

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The old Southern Cotton Oil Co. cotton seed building has been a part of downtown Wilson’s skyline for nearly 75 years

Located on Stemmery Street, the Muskogee Iron Works structure dates back to 1944.

For the last three weeks, the rusty tin skin of the 65-foot-tall structure has been peeled away, leaving a bare iron skeleton.

The Silver Lake Growers Gin is disassembling the old building with the intent of reassembling it for its original use, storing cotton seed.

“It’s been sitting here for years and my dad and the board members at the cotton gin came up with the idea of buying it for a pretty reasonable price,” said Justin Smith, son of Donald Smith, manager at the gin. “It would cost twice as much to buy a new one and we need the capacity at the gin for the seed, so that’s what we are doing here. It was my dad’s idea. He’s a visionary.”

Donald Smith explained that the old building, with a footprint of 100 feet by 200 feet, has a seed capacity of 5,000 tons.

“It has a lot of value today, particularly with the rising cost of metals,” Smith said. “The building was solid. It was well-made. The structures they made then were a lot more stout than what they are now.”

The outside metal will be recycled and all of the interior structural metal will be reassembled adjacent to the gin’s existing 3,000-ton storage building.

“It’s worthwhile taking it down, putting it back up and then putting a new skin on it,” Smith said.

Smith said the gin was purchased from H.P. McCoy and Brook Davis. The original plan was to move it three years ago.

“At that point in time, we had a fall-off in the acreage of cotton,” Smith said. “We went from about 16,000 acres of cotton down to about 5,000 acres of cotton. So when that came about, the board of directors here decided to just hold off on it. We had already purchased the building at that time but we just held off and just let it sit there, which was a great decision because the next year we had 11,000 acres. Now we are back up in that 15,000-acre range, so the decision was made to go forward with it.”

Smith said the additional storage will let the growers better manage the market itself.

“Cotton seed is not like cotton or any other commodity,” Smith said. “You’re not trading cotton seed on the New York Stock Exchange or any other commodity exchange. You basically sell it or you hold it.”

Smith said cotton is making a comeback. The gin would be at a disadvantage if it doesn’t have the additional storage needed for a potentially larger cotton crop.

“If you are going to generate 8,000 to 10,000 tons of cotton seed and you can only hold 3,000, that means you are going to have to get out here and sell this seed at a time that’s not very favorable to the gin,” he said. “If you can’t store it, then you’ve got to sell it in a bearish market.”

Justin said a crew of seven has been using grinders, reciprocating saws, two 60-foot and 85-foot man lifts and a lot of manpower to take the building apart.

“I am hoping that within the next week or so we will be able to start taking it down,” Smith said. “Once we start taking it down, it shouldn’t take long. I am thinking two weeks. It’s been a job. I will be glad when it’s over. It’s been a lot of hard work.”

“Disassembling anything and trying to reuse it is a process in itself,” Smith said. “It’s one thing if you are going to go in there and cut everything out and not have to reuse it. But right now we are going around there painting numbers on each beam so that way when we go to reconstruct it, we know what we’ve got and where it goes.”

“We have had a lot of people come by and talk about it, saying they will miss it here,” Smith said. “Most of them thought we were taking it down for the scrap metal, but once they figured out what we were doing with it, it changed their perspective.”

Donald Smith said the building will be reassembled at the gin, located at 6114 N.C. 58 N. at the Wilson-Nash county line.

“We plan on having it up before we start ginning in October,” Donald Smith said. “Hopefully it goes up without incident.”

“I like moving an old structure like that,” Smith said. “It shows the value of what is out there if people just work with it.”