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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

The Cotton Pickiní Theater

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Dozens of old cotton gins dot the landscape of East Texas, the last relics from the days when cotton was a major cash crop for farmers.

And most of them are slowing rotting away without historical markers to remind people of how important they were to communities decades ago.

But that isnít the case at Point, a small town of some 700 souls in northern Rains county.

Cotton Pickin Theatre, Point Texas
Cotton Pickin Theatre in Point, Texas
Photo courtesy Mike Price, October 2007
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Here, a sturdy old gin has found a new life as an entertainment venue that draws crowds from all over East Texas and performers like Mark Chestnut, Pee Wee Walker, and Gary Busey.

And the sounds of the Saturday night music and comedy go out on the air waves of the best named rural radio station in Texas--KMOO of Mineola. Youíll find it at 99.9 on your radio dial.

The old cotton gin sat unused beside U.S. Highway 69 since the 1970s, when it stopped ginning cotton for Rains Countyís farmers. But about five and a half years ago, Brent Cason and his mother and father, Lena and Joe Ben Cason, saw something different in the dirty, neglected old building.

With the support of Pointís people, they turned the gin into The Cotton Pickiní Theater and opened it to music performers of all kinds.

Today, each Saturday night, the old gin comes alive as people drive to Point for some of the best entertainment in East Texas.

While country music is the mainstay at the gin, the second and fifth Saturday nights of each month are devoted to gospel music. And on the fourth Saturday night, the Rural American Idol contests pulls in contestants from all over the map.

Performers come in all size and ages, from three years old to 85.

No one really knows when Pointís gin was built, but it probably dates back to Pointís beginning.

The town began as a flag station and post office around 1880 on a section of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad from Mineola to Greenville. Residents proposed the name Riceís Point for William Rice, a Kentuckian who settled in the area, but the post office rejected the name and several others because they were already in use.

In 2006, Point opened another landmark, also related to the communityís farming heritage. A large monument, sitting beside the old cotton gin, was built to recognize the birth of the National Farmers Union by Isaac Newton Gresham at Point in 1902.

Founded to address farm issues during a time when America was courting the American industrial revolution. Gresham was a small town newspaper editor who was sympathetic with the problems faced by small farmers around the turn of the century.

Today, the NFU has a membership of 250,000 farm and ranch families in 26 states and continues with Greshamís mission of protecting the economic well-being of farmers and ranchers and their rural communities.

Meanwhile, the Point gin keeps on ginning--not with cotton, but music.

The other day, however, Joe Ben Cason found a survivor of the old cotton days--a live boll weevil.

No one knows how he survived or why he stayed.

Maybe he just liked the music.


© Bob Bowman July 29, 2012 Column
More Bob Bowman's East Texas >
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. )

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Texas Theatres | Cotton & Cotton Gins |
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