– Annual Cotton Gin Festival returns to bostwick –
Every year, amid cotton fluff drifting in the air, a seemingly endless stream of tractors rolls through downtown Bostwick, Georgia – its streets lined with crisp white tents boasting various wares – as the Cotton King or Queen waves to thousands of onlookers enjoying the town’s annual Cotton Gin Festival.
For 29 years, Bostwick – a community of less than 400 individuals – has welcomed visitors to its unique harvest festival that features the longest tractor parade in the Southeast, a 5K Gin Run in a beautiful rural setting, arts and crafts vendors, music, food, and more.
As the name implies, Bostwick is home to one of the few operational cotton gins in Georgia. Moreover, cotton has been ginned in this location since 1901. The original equipment has since been converted to a modern module gin, which allows faster completion of a larger bale or module of cotton to be ginned – a process of separating the seeds from the fiber. Festival attendees can tour the gin and watch as raw cotton is brought from the fields, ginned, and turned into bales ready to be transported to the mills.
“The festival makes every effort to celebrate what it means to be a farmer,” says Festival Chairperson Angie Howard. “It brings the community together to include others from the county who remember or recognize Bostwick as a strong farming community.”
The festival was established in 1989 by June Whitaker, long-time Bostwick resident and former city council member, and other community members in order to restore and preserve the Susie Agnes Hotel. The city’s website narrates the history and importance of the historic building, which is located in the heart of Bostwick and predates the city itself: “In 1902 John Bostwick Sr. built the Susie Agnes Hotel. As the train continued to pass through this area and people stopped for overnight trips, the town of Bostwick began to develop. John Bostwick Sr. purchased a huge tract of land and divided it into 122 lots for residential development. Thus, the City of Bostwick was born.”
The Susie Agnes Hotel was purchased in 1993 and donated to the city. In 1999, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently, it operates as Bostwick’s city hall and community center. Proceeds from the annual festival continues to go toward the maintenance of the hotel as well as that of the old post office and town landscaping.
Honoring members of the community has become a feature of the festival through the election of a Cotton King or Queen. Individuals nominated for this title by the community and festival organizers have to be at least 65 years of age, lived most of their lives in Bostwick, and contributed to the community either through agriculture or in some other significant manner.
“It is rather surprising how many people we have that meet all the requirements,” Howard comments.
The festival committee then votes on the top three names submitted. Lifelong Bostwick native John Nunn, 88, was voted as this year’s Cotton King.
Born in Bostwick to a local cotton farmer, Nunn was always interested in the community of Bostwick and the county even as a young boy. He worked as a cotton farmer but eventually moved into other farming pursuits after an extended drought. First growing soybeans, he later diversified into the dairy business and then began raising beef cattle, which he continued until 2014. Nunn, who is well-known in the community, and his wife, Ona, raised their four children in Bostwick. In the past, Nunn served as a county commissioner for his district for 28 years, was a little league coach, and drove a school bus to take children from Bostwick into Madison, to Perry for the State Fair, and Zoo Atlanta, among other places.
“The festival has taken on a life all its own,” Howard notes. “While the cotton gin is important, so are the parade of tractors that move along Highway 83 for an hour on the morning of the event. Each year, I hear from people about how much the festival means to them, especially the tractors. I hear all kind of stories about families farming for generations, various tractors owned, picking cotton or playing in (cotton) seed barns.”
Howard says the community embraces the festival with support and excitement. Various land owners donate time, pasture land for parking, tractors, straw bales, and whatever else is needed to make it happen. “We are a small community,” he says. “We have been blessed over the years to have the Morgan County Middle School 8th graders, FFA members, Morgan County High School band members, the robotics team, and the Rotary Club help with the effort.” The festival seeks the help of the school system for volunteers to help with parking and the 5K Gin Run.
The 2018 Cotton Gin Festival will be held on Nov. 3 with festivities kicking off at 9 a.m. and the tractor and antique car parade at 11 a.m. The Gin Run takes place on Oct. 27 at 8 a.m. For more information, visit www.bostwickga.com.
Written by Sarah Wibell
Photographed by Jesse Walker