Peanut, cotton mill nears end of historic, active life

(Editor’s note: A photo and request for information that was run in the July 10 issue of the Brady Standard-Herald proved to stimulate many questions about the old peanut mill. After numerous phone calls and various attempts to contact several persons, we were able to contact Mr. Charles Matthews of San Angelo. As a former owner and operator of the mill during the early 1930s and 1940s, he provided a wealth of insight and history about the historical site that has now all but been demolished. I traveled to San Angelo last week and visited with him at his home for a short amount of time. The story published below is but a glimpse into the 25 or more years Mr. Matthews served the local community. Without his keen memory and sharp attention to detail, this story would not have been possible.) By Amanda Howell Ask almost any old-timer who knows a little history about McCulloch County and they’ll recall a memory or two of the old cotton mill, once a booming industry nestled on the east side of Brady. The original stone structure was built in 1909 by Consumers Cotton Oil Co., a sister company of Swift Co. Inc., which operated oil mills all over the state of Texas in that era. It was later operated under the name McCulloch County Cotton Oil Mill. The seed house, which saw the bulk of the work, was built in 1932 when West Texas Utilities was contracted to run an electric line to the site. The new line brought the plant into a new age of production. What was once operated from steam power was now just a switch away with electricity. A major source of income in those days, the mill employed as many as 40 people during the operation’s most productive years. First hired as an employee in 1934 at the ripe old age of 25, Charles Matthews later became owner of the mill which would eventually be known as Brady Mills, Inc. “I don’t know of anybody but me that’s left who would know as much as I do about the mill,” said Matthews. “I organized Brady Mills, Inc. in 1946 when Fred Wulff, Sr., called me and informed me that McCulloch County Cotton Oil Mill was being closed and was up for sale. “He suggested that I consider buying the mill, and with much thought I decided to do so. We converted the old oil mill into a peanut shelling plant and we started buying peanuts and continued with the feed plant operation.” The peanut mill purchased peanuts throughout South Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. The first carload of shelled peanuts to leave McCulloch County was loaded in June 1947, consigned to California. The shipment, containing 50,000 pounds of peanuts, was valued at $8,000 by Brady Mills, Inc. That first shipment was the first of many carloads of shelled peanuts to be transported that year. Original stockholders in Brady Mills Inc. were Matthews, Lewis Burns, T.P. Wood, A.E. Sanders and Ben Smith. “We formed the corporation and we became the primary stockholders,” said Matthews. Before taking over ownership, Matthews spent several years in Farmersville and Portales, N. Mex. working for similar milling companies. “When I first went to work for Consumer’s Cotton Oil Co., I would say there were probably 15 to 20 employees on staff. However, when we put in the peanut shelling company in 1946 we had a good bit many more than that figure, sometimes we had at least that many working in the peanut plant alone.” The oil mill brought to Brady cotton and cotton seed from all points of the compass, much being shipped in by rail and still other large quantities being freighted here by truck from inland points. Industrial and manufacturing enterprises were booming in the 1940s. Among Brady’s manufacturing enterprises, none were more important than the two cotton oil mills which served not only all of McCulloch County, but which made Brady the concentration point for cotton seed from an immense territory, extending out in a 150 mile radius. The Brady Cotton Oil Company plant contained four presses and 12 linters, and the McCulloch County Cotton Oil Co. plant contained three presses and eight linters. Of the products of these mills, the cotton seed and linters were sold in the usual manner, while the hulls, cake and meal were mostly sold locally by reason of the extension cattle interests. A near million dollar peanut crop was stored at the Brady Mills, Inc., plant in the winter of 1950 with every inch of storage space utilized in attempting to handle the heavy receipts of the harvest which proved to be one of the best ever in the Central Texas area. With the exception of a few freezes, the weather that year was ideal for the peanut harvest. Farmers in the Central Texas sector reported good yields that year from their plantings’from 30 to 50 more bushels per acre. In 1950, it was estimated that the mill stored 9 million pounds of threshed peanuts in the company’s warehouse. That year, because so many crops were coming in of a high grade, the company was paying about $230 per ton on quality peanuts. “We had a lot of activity through ’51 and then we had a seven year drouth come in,” explained Matthews. “We had a big harvest after that and it just about killed me.” “I had to reorganize the plant after the drouth and we took in some more stockholders, new capital and so forth. We continued to operate during the drouth period, providing payroll, although it wasn’t very profitable.” Matthews later resigned and left the business with the stockholders in 1959 when he moved to Dallas to go into business for himself. Many of the employees Matthews recalls includes S.M. Hendley who was superintendent in 1934 when Matthews was first employed with the company; Arthor Bullard who was Hendley’s night superintendent; Ernst Otte, night watchman; Skinny Sanders, Bud Johnson, Herbert Cavness, Carl Hendley, Wayne Johnson, Delbert Hillhouse, Gene Hillhouse, Lottie West, Merle Hendley, A.B. Cox, O.H. Whitfield, S.M. Hendley, C.A. Bullard, Bill Malone, Raymond Hartley, Mary Beth Leach and James Mason. Vacant for many years now and in the process of demolition, the old mill is on its way to becoming a faded memory of what once existed in Brady. The building is being demolished by Discovery Architectural Antiques of Gonzales. According to company owners, Brad and Suzanne Kittel, many of the materials that make up the structure of the old mill will be recycled in both commercial and residential buildings throughout the state. The San Antonio Hyatt Regency Hotel plans to use some of the longleaf pine, no longer available today, in their health spa. According to the Kittels, longleaf pine, which was plentiful in East Texas in the early 1800s, was harvested so severly that by 1930 the material was virtually impossible to find. Contrary to popular belief, the pine is structurally more sound today than when it was cut down because the sap in the wood has crystalized thereby making the pieces stronger with age. The length and immensity of the beams can be seen in a simple up-close view. A gentleman in Beaumont has also purchased some of the material from the old mill and plans to use some of the pine beams in the construction of his residence. Some of the existing machinery, still in working condition, will be sold to other cotton processing plants througout the state thus ensuring that the life of the plant will continue in some capacity.

Leave a Comment