Lost Buildings of Somerset: The Gin House

Lost Buildings of Somerset: The Gin House


Welcome again to Somerset Place State Historic
Site! We are currently in the mill yard area of the plantation where the gristmill and
sawmills once stood. It is likely that the Gin House also stood in this space and may
have been part of the same building as the gristmill. The Gin House probably contained
a large, mechanical cotton gin and a separate storage space, as was typical of these structures
on antebellum plantations. They were usually raised high off the ground, like the Gin House
pictured here from the L. A. Cliatt plantation in Alabama. The actual gin machinery was usually
kept in this above-ground space near the adjacent storage rooms. Mules walking in a circular
pattern on the ground beneath the structure turned a shaft that spun a gear to drive the
cotton gin machinery. The gin separated the cotton fiber from the seed. While we don’t
know the specifics of the Gin House here at Somerset Place, it was either powered by draft
animals like mules or by the transportation canal if it was kept with the gristmill. Enslaved
persons like Judy and Lewis would then transport the fibers from the Gin House to the nearby
Manufactory, where enslaved weavers like Rebecca produced clothing for the enslaved community.
Now cotton at Somerset was only used for this purpose, rather than being sold as a cash
crop. If you’d like to learn more about the Manufactory (or the Work House as it was
sometimes known), watch Kathy’s video linked later in this episode. As for the leftover
seeds from the ginning process, they were stored in the Gin House itself for seeding
the next year’s crop. The 1839 inventory listed 888 bushels of cotton seed inside that
building, which would’ve weighed over 28,000 pounds! The structure itself remained in use
until the Civil War. After that, it appears once more in the historical record. A property
survey from 1873 describes “the building used for mill & gin house is in ruins, it
is doubtful whether it is worth repairing.” This indicates that the gristmill and Gin
House were likely together in one building. What ultimately happened to the structure
is a mystery, like so many of our other Lost Buildings. If you have any questions about
this video, please comment below. Don’t forget to subscribe and ring that bell to
receive notifications about our latest uploads. Lastly, be sure to join us here for a guided tour.
We’re open year-round, Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 to 5:00, and offer tours upon request
until 3:30. Thank you, and we hope to see you soon.

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