Agrarian Economy

Cattle Farms & Cotton Gins

Cotton Harvest Late 1800's The land and what it could yield attracted the first settlers to Ellis County and what would one day be Midlothian. During the mid-19th century cattle-raising was the most profitable business due to the fertile soil, broad native grasslands, and mild climate. Until the arrival of the railroad, large scale cultivation of the land was limited to the needs of the grower and what could be transported to Houston or Shreveport by teams of oxen. Produce was either traded with neighbors or required a two-day trip to Dallas, the nearest market.

Cotton Harvest Late 1800's

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The economy of Ellis County and the surrounding communities changed in 1872 with the arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad in the eastern portion of the county. With the railroad’s arrival new markets could be reached in an economical and timely fashion. Suddenly, large-scale farming, which required new equipment, local brokers, warehouses, mills, and cotton gins, was possible. As a result, between 1870 and 1880 the population of Ellis County almost tripled from 7,514 to 21,294.

Large-scale farming also meant that the cattle range had to move on or be fenced in. After the railroad’s arrival, the new settlers to Ellis County from the Old South brought in their knowledge of growing cotton, establishing the future economic base of the county in cotton production. From 1880 to 1930, agriculture would dominate Ellis County’s economy with cotton being the leading money crop.

In 1883, the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railroad Company laid tracks between Dallas and Cleburne through what would one day be Midlothian, opening that section of Ellis County to convenient transportation and trade options. By the early 1890s Midlothian’s population had grown to over 600 people and 25 businesses including two cotton gins, a hotel, a hardware and farm-implement store, a lumberyard, and a saddle and harness shop. Ellis County was known as one of the nation’s leading cotton-growing areas.

The heydays of cotton were coming to an end in the 1930s. The Great Depression had a devastating economic impact on the nation, which found its way into Ellis County. In addition, poor soil management practices had resulted in lands lost to erosion, reducing the acreage devoted to cotton production. Cotton growing, which once dominated the landscape of Ellis County, had given way to corn production