When Cotton Was King-The Waco Texas Cotton Palace
Just imagine it.
In 1890, Waco was larger than Dallas, Ft. Worth and El Paso.
Waco owes it's explosive growth to several things. One of which was the famous Waco Suspension Bridge , the largest single span bridge in the United States . Another contributing factor to Waco's population was the Waco Tap Railroad which tapped into the Houston and Texas Central Railroad from Houston to Dallas .
Cotton, known as "white gold" in those days, soon became the most important factor in determining Waco 's future. The invention of the steel breaking plow allowed planting in the rich Blackland prairie. Farmers from a hundred miles away would bring their cotton to Waco to be ginned. This lead to cotton buyers springing up with offices in Waco and they began shipping cotton by train to port cities like Galveston and New Orleans, to then be shipped on to Europe , South America and India.
By 1884, with about 12,000 people living in Waco, an estimated 50,000 bales of cotton, 900,000 pounds of wool and 500,000 pounds of hides were being shipped annually through Waco.
With other cities hosting fall festivals, a group of Waco residents wanted to find a way to capitalize on this influx of commerce and have a little fun doing it. An idea was born.
The Cotton Palace Exhibition in 1894
In 1894, Waco residents raised the money to build an exposition hall with seating for 5,000. On November 8, 1894 , Texas Governor James Hogg was guest of honor on opening day of the month-long Cotton Palace Exhibition. This first event included a parade, agricultural exhibit, amusement area, orators, and musicians. It drew in visitors from all over the state and was a huge success.
However, just six weeks later, tragically, the building burned.
Population Growth Stats for Waco
- In 1859 - 749 people
- In 1870 - 3,008 people
- In 1880 - 7,295 people
- In 1884 - about 12,000 people
- In 1890 - 14,445 people
- In 1900 - 20,686 people
- In 1914 - about 35,000 people
- In 1930 - 53,848 people
Rebuilding the Cotton Palace
In 1910, the Texas Cotton Palace was re-established and the building re-built. There were separate buildings for automobiles, poultry, cotton, flowers, and machinery exhibitions.
Each year the exhibition became more elaborate. Costumes for the event were made in New York and France. Debutantes from all over the state came to Waco to compete for the Queen and her court. They crowned the King and Queen annually.
The Great Depression era saw smaller crowds (only 350,000 in 1930) at the Exhibition and the 1930 exhibition saw rain that kept the crowds away. The Clay Street Texas Cotton Palace closed on October 19, 1930. That location had seen 8 million visitors. The annual record of visitors was in 1918 when they had 547,242 people attend. November 3, 1923 holds the single day record of 117,208 visitors.
In 1970, the Texas Cotton Palace was once again revived by residents of Waco and still operates annually.
Today's version of The Waco Cotton Palace is an energetic stage production that recounts the history of Waco . The colorful two-hour stage show features local residents who use drama, song and dance to chronicle the history of Cotton Palace.
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