Compress no more

Old water tower and building at former Federal Compress in Pine Bluff Arkansas

This building and water tower are all that’s left of the former Federal Compress and Cotton Warehouse on West 6th Avenue in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The original facility stretched for two or three city blocks and was a beehive of activity during cotton harvesting season. Advancing agricultural technology put compresses in the same category as high-button shoes, buggy-whips, and the Edsel.

Back in the day when cotton was King, most LA cities and towns of any size had a cotton compress (or two). The compresses received baled cotton from local gins and then compressed  the bales to a smaller size, around 60% of their original size, which made storing and shipping more efficient. Most of the compresses operated on steam as did this one, the Federal Compress in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Old Coca-Cola sign

Click on the sign to see more.

While we are on the subject of “back in the day,” let me direct you to see an old Coca-Cola wall sign, painted I’m thinking sometime around 1907. The sign is on Main Street here in Pine Bluff, so locals can go ogle it, if so disposed. Go to the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com to see the sign and graze through some commentary.

When gin operators discovered high-capacity hydraulic presses, they eliminated the need for the trip to the compress, sounding the death knell for these businesses. There was one other compress  in Pine Bluff, the Pine Bluff Compress and Warehouse Company. It is now leveled. The only evidence remaining of its former presence are a few concrete piers.

Old water tower and building at former Federal Compress

Here is a toads-eye view of the tower. The wide angle lens gives a, shall we say, “towering” appearance.

Old compress water tower and building on same premises as an ice company

The old building and water tower now share real estate with a modern ice plant. Steam to ice in one generation, quite a transition. Shot across the street from the old compress premises.

A straight on shot from the edge of the premises gives you a more accurate view of the proportions of the building and tower,

A straight-on shot from the edge of the premises gives you a more accurate view of the proportions of the building and tower.

Though the economic value of compresses has long since met its demise, there is still historic value to that part of our background. Investors made commitments and provided a needed service. They created jobs that put food on family tables. Even the compress steam whistles were a dependable time check for neighbors. Compresses were a mainstay made obsolete. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

Streetscape in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Three generations of signs speak to the history of this corner in my hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We see a venerable financial institution well over 100 years in business, a beloved local merchant no longer in business and the new occupant of the premises, a church with a neon slogan. Time and life goes on.

Sometimes a swing back in time is good for the soul. I trust this one was to you.

Joe Dempsey

Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.

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