This eye-catching contraption stands on private property in Latta, viewable from the road. What may have some motorists scratching their heads is easily recognizable by locals as an eighteenth-century piece of equipment once essential to the cotton industry. The device is a cotton press built in 1798, the only remaining one of its kind in South Carolina and possibly the oldest remaining cotton press in the United States. It was built for planter John Bethea when the cotton industry was beginning to flourish across South Carolina following the Revolutionary War. It later belonged to cotton planter Henry Berry of the Berry’s Crossroads community and was relocated to the present site in 1950 by a Berry descendant.
The press is made of pegged and doweled oak, supported by four beams and two “buzzard wing” shingled booms (see the extended arm above; the other boom is not visible in this photograph). The press box is centered beneath the four beams, which are covered with a shingled roof. Powered by mules, the device pressed cotton into bales to be sold at market. With the exception of some hardware used in repairs, the press retains its original materials and is said to still be in working condition.
The Early Cotton Press is listed in the National Register:
The Early Cotton Press is significant in the field of rural industry and agriculture as the only remaining cotton press of this era in South Carolina which used mule power. It was built and located at “Berry’s Crossroads,” former site of a sawmill and other plantation works, by Stephen Berry in ca. 1798; later purchased and moved to its present location to preserve it around 1950. Although not now in use, it remains in excellent condition and illustrates the primary machine which baled ginned cotton. The press is constructed of pegged and doweled oak. A shingled roof is attached and covers a chiseled oak screw 16 inches in diameter. The screw, at time of nomination, was still in working condition. Two shingled booms are hinged at the roof and four large doweled beams support and balance the structure. The press box is housed at the center of the beams. All parts are hand carved and, except for several repairs, are original material.