Southampton County farmers promote increased cotton and milk production

Published 7:34 pm Saturday, March 11, 2023

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On Feb. 22, 1923, the Farmers of the Ivor community held an enthusiastic and largely attended meeting in the Ivor Town Hall; speeches were made on cotton cultivation by Dr. M. R. Stephenson of Seaboard, North Carolina, and A.S. Johnson and Paul D. Camp — both of Franklin, all of whom were practical, successful cotton planters. Honorable T. A. Saunders of Ivor presided over the meeting and every business man, banker and professional man in Ivor was present as evidence of the determination of the community to build a cotton gin in Ivor, establish a live cotton market, and produce cotton on the farms contiguous to the town. Farmers were in attendance from Ivor, Berlin, Corinth, Franklin, Manry and Wakefield communities as well as from communities in Isle of Wight County. The chairman assured them that if enough cotton was planted to assure a 200-bale production that a gin would be built in Ivor in time for handling the 1923 crop.

Dr. Stephenson made an interesting talk on cotton, going into the history of its production in the South, its advantages and disadvantages. He put forth his ideas of cultivation; variety of seed to be used, etc.; and the desirability of raising cotton in counties such as Southampton, Isle of Wight, Sussex, Nansemond, where the boll weevil had not made its destructive work felt. In the 1920s, the boll weevil covered over 90% of the cotton producing area of the south; it was quite evident that cotton planting should be most profitable especially to the people of Berlin and Ivor District, which, at that time, was as far north as cotton could be raised. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the northmost limit for cotton production, at that time, was a line drawn east to west from Norfolk, Virginia to Cairo, Illinois.

Mr. Camp and Mr. Johnson, whose experiences were even more valuable than Dr. Stephenson’s because soil and atmospheric conditions around Franklin more nearly approached those of Berlin and Ivor than conditions in and around Seaboard, N. C. from which Dr. Stephenson comes. Mr. Camp made some very valuable suggestions on cotton cultivation as it applied to Southampton County.

In 1922, the Virginia Cotton Board of Trade was organized to more aggressively promote the cultivation, production, and marketing of cotton grown in the Southampton, Isle of Wight, Nansemond, and Sussex region of Virginia.

Interestingly, another major focus of the Virginia Cotton Board of Trade was to aggressively promote larger-scale DAIRY farming in Southampton County and to establish a creamery in Franklin. Dairy farmers in the region would have a market for their milk production, adding much to their success in their overall farming business. It was determined that the prospects then were brighter than ever for the accomplishment of some real results in that direction. Realizing that the first thing to do in order to create the demand for an output of any kind was to find a steady, reliable, and constant market for milk produced by farmers of the region. The Industrial Committee of the Board of Trade (composed of Chairman L. R. Jones, Ryland Camp and E. T. Fitzgerald to which was added Dr. J. C. Rawls, S. R. Nicholson and L. E. Derr) was asked to find a market for the output of a creamery and cheese factory in Franklin and to push the matter to a successful consummation. 

In 1923, that the committee was already on the job was evident through a statement made by one of the members to the effect that an offer of $2,000 from a local concern toward the raising of $5,000 necessary to install a creamery in Franklin was already in the hands of the committee, and it was confidently believed that the balance of the money necessary could be raised without any trouble. Southampton County was gaining a statewide reputation as a dairying center; and, it was thought that the establishment of a creamery and cheese factory, in Franklin, would greatly enlarge possibilities for that profitable branch of farming.

In later years – from the mid-1920s well into the 1960s and early 1970s – a significant part of farming in the area was devoted to dairy farming. During the decades 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s more and more dairy farms were established in Southampton County – ultimately reaching more than 46 in number; the Franklin area alone boasted more than 25 dairy farms. One of those dairy farms, Hillview Farm, managed by Harvey Cutchins, was started in the early 1930s by Sol W. Rawls, Sr. Twenty- four to 36 guernsey cows were milked twice a day and sold to Pine Grove Dairy in Portsmouth. Sol Rawls, Jr. was active in the Southeastern Virginia Breeders’ Association. Several dairy products businesses — such as creameries, ice cream production, and milk bottling plants — were established in and around Southampton County.

For more complete details about the region’s dairy history — and a listing of Southampton’s 46 dairy farms — reference is made to Ernest Wrenn’s book, “Commercial Dairy Farming in Southampton County and Franklin, Virginia” — It is available through the Southampton County Historical Society.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is