Belton became the county seat of Bell County in 1852. The town grew due to its location on Nolan Creek and the Stage Coach Route that ran from Tennessee to Brownwood, Texas. In the 1870’s businesses grew throughout the town supporting the region’s main crop, cotton, and the numerous cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail. A fire destroyed Belton’s main business district in 1879. Soon after, the first cotton seed oil mill was built with more gins to follow.
Although the Santa Fe Railroad chose to locate in nearby Temple instead of Belton in 1881, Belton’s Katy Depot was built in 1882. The town advanced further with the implementation of water mains and electricity throughout the town. Telephone companies and fire stations were also built around this time. Belton thrived, but had another setback in 1913 when the Nolan Creek poured out of its banks and flooded the town.
The Farmer’s Co-op Gin Company was created in 1928 as the population of Belton peaked at 6,500 people. This Gin was built to replace a mill that burned down in the 1920’s. The building that stands today was constructed between 1928 and 1929, mainly by the Theodore and Aurelia Hander family with Tom Karnes as the foreman and head brick mason. The concrete and mortar for the building was mixed on site using water from nearby Nolan Creek. This Co-op Gin in Belton is one of only two gins in Texas that were built of brick.
The Gin consisted of three work areas: The operator (which was used to remove the raw cotton from the wagons); The gin stands (which helped remove the lint fiber from the seeds and allowed them to be dropped into an auger trough to be stored elsewhere); and the hydraulic press (which allowed the fibers to be pressed into bales and wrapped in burlap). Most of the machinery was placed in the building by hoisting it in before the roof was constructed.
A quick transition from horse and mule to gas powered machines allowed cotton processing to become more efficient and the business boomed until the cotton industry collapsed in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The Gin was then converted to the co-op feed store until its doors were closed in 2004.
The Rooms & Machinery
The Gin has gone through many transformations throughout the years: from a cotton gin in the 1920’s, a feed store in the 1940’s and falling into disrepair in the 2000’s. The biggest change has been the birth of “The Gin” complex.
Let’s take a tour from what is today to what used to be.
As you enter our waiting area you will witness where the original scale was housed. The wagons hauling cotton were brought here to have the cotton weighed.
Entering the Main dining area, with its high ceilings and open layout, there was ample space for the large cotton machinery. Much of the machinery could not be brought in through the doors, so it was hoisted into the building through the ceiling before the roof was constructed. Some of the machinery took skilled workmen to operate while other machines did not.
Following the stairs down to the Bar you will find where the press foundation was located. The bale press was so massive its foundation started here and as you ascend to the Loft dining area you will find the space where the press platform was positioned.
The Board room/dining room was the loading platform. It was here where workers would load bales of freshly pressed cotton onto the farmers’ trailers.
Our Main wait staff station was where the burlap was stored. Without the burlap the cotton bales would easily lose cotton or simply fall apart.
Pass through to the Banquet room and you will emerge into the cotton seed house. This room was important for keeping the newly detached cotton seeds together until they could be processed into oil. Next, take a stroll on the beautiful deck areas and imagine the wagons parked here before being loaded with cotton.
Lastly, visit The Weigh Station yogurt shop where the Office and Weigh room was positioned. All of the Gin’s transactions started and concluded in this area.