The Bonham Cotton Mill, organized on May 12, 1900, by nine Bonham directors acting for the 192 local stockholders, became by 1950 the largest light sheeting mill west of the Mississippi River, with 17,200 spindles and 426 looms, capital stock valued at $600,000, and an annual payroll of $780,000 for 380 employees. It was for decades the major employer in Bonham.
Its textile operations started in 1900 with 5,000 spindles and 150 looms. Capital stock was valued at $150,000 and shares at $100 each; by 1906 the value of stock had risen to $200,000. By 1910 the company employed 196 workers. Consolidated Textile Corporation, an eastern company, bought the mill and forty-six tenant houses for $575,000 in 1920. The onset of the Great Depression sent Consolidated into bankruptcy, and all its plants closed early in 1930. Bonham businessmen raised the $100,000 purchase price to return ownership to Texas in January 1931, but Dallas investors had assumed control by 1933. Employment stabilized at about 190, and production was geared to light sheeting for tomato frames. During World War II orders for drill, a heavy fabric, dramatically expanded production and required twenty-four-hour operation. By 1950 employment peaked at 380, and the mill marketed light sheeting and drill for tents, awnings, and sporting goods through a nationwide network of sales offices.
After 1956 lower tariffs undercut the domestic market for cotton textiles, and the company struggled to survive. A merger with the Brenham Cotton Mill in 1958 was dissolved in 1962. Employment dropped to 285 in 1962, at a weekly payroll of $16,500. The mill was reorganized as Red River Textile Mills, and a local drive raised $250,000 to save it. It was mortgaged in 1966 and 1968 before declaring bankruptcy in 1970.
John C. Saunders, a pharmacist, was the first director and managed the mill until his death in 1934. H. A. Burow managed the mill from 1934 until the 1958 merger with Brenham Cotton Mill. The work force at the mill was about 50 percent female at any given time, with the exception of World wars I and II, when the percentage probably rose significantly. A 1950 celebration of the mill's fiftieth anniversary revealed that nearly 60 percent of the employees who had been at the mill for over forty years were women. Three women had worked there since its first day. Perhaps because of this, the mill operated a free kindergarten for fifty years. The kindergarten, begun in 1907 by members of the First Methodist Church, was conducted in a private home. Mill manager Saunders was credited with getting a permanent building constructed and for assuming mill responsibility for the kindergarten. Although the first free kindergarten in Texas had been established fifteen years earlier, the cotton mill's school was unusual for a town the size of Bonham. The kindergarten was controlled and operated by women. Children from throughout the town were accepted, and tuition was charged those who could afford it. Despite the mill's responsibility for the kindergarten, finances were a problem, and it was eventually supported by the Community Chest. Children were awarded a diploma after two years of lessons in manners, health, cleanliness, and the Bible. One teacher served the school for over forty years, assisted by several aides. In 1950 she estimated that 2,000 children had been students there. The kindergarten was governed by a board composed of two women from each church in Bonham. It closed in 1957.
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Bonham Daily Favorite, December 27, 1930, January 24, 1931, May 8, 1950. Beverly Christian, "Bonham Cotton Mills," East Texas Historical Journal 26 (Fall 1988). Floy Crandall Hodge, A History of Fannin County (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1966). Texas Industry, October 1940.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Beverly M. J. Christian,
“Bonham Cotton Mill,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
Most Recent Revision Date:
June 22, 2020