Cotton Days is Washington City's celebration of its heritage.

Now don't be fooled, there's a lot of cool stuff happening in association with the celebration, but Mayor Kress Staheli, a lifelong Washington City resident, wants everyone to know that this festival is in honor of some very hearty people who founded the Dixie Cotton Mission.

"Some amazing people came down here, enduring incredible hardships, to put down the roots of what we now see as an amazing place," he said. "Life was not easy when they came down, but they were determined to make it work."

From the Washington County Historical Society website:

"By the mid-1850s, the reality of civil war hung over the United States. Brigham Young asked the Indian Missionaries in southern Utah to see if cotton could be grown there. When they reported in the affirmative, President Young immediately made plans to colonize the Virgin River Basin. In 1857, the Samuel Adair and Robert Covington Companies were called to settle southern Utah and to grow cotton. Nearly 40 families, mostly with cotton growing experience (from Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee), arrived in Washington Utah in April of 1857. The region was dubbed "Dixie."

Those families got here and found growing cotton, even just surviving, was not going to be easy. The website continues:

The families endured the summer's blistering heat and were forced to continually rebuild their washed out dams on the Virgin River. Due to the alkali soil, the cotton crops did not completely germinate as expected, resulting in a limited harvest. A spirit of frustration and hopelessness overcame many of the early settlers. Any by the time the Civil War ended, the economics no longer justified growing cotton in Utah's Dixie.

Even with the slow start, the undaunted settlers vowed to make things work and joined up with several other southern settlements as well as additional "cotton missionaries" sent from Salt Lake City.

And by September of 1860, "The Washington County Agricultural and Manufacturing Society held its first exhibition at Washington, the county seat. A splendid collection of fruits and other products were brought in, among other things being a cotton stalk containing 307 bolls & forms and a sunflower which measured 3 ft. in circumference. The ladies department also presented a very creditable appearance."

Within six years the Cotton factory (now known as the Old Cotton Mill) in Washington City was erected. At that time it was the largest factory west of the Mississippi.

From the Washington City website:

For a short while the cotton industry flourished, partly due to the Civil War and its interference with growers in the southern U.S. When the Civil War ended the cotton market softened and made it difficult for the Washington factory to compete. The factory never made much money but it helped to hold the pioneers in 'Dixie' with work and income. It also supplied cloth that reduced the amount of work required in the home to produce clothing. The factory closed in 1904 and the machinery was removed in 1910.

Now the Cotton Mill is a Star Nursery, but the look and feel will never be lost on those who respect the history of the old Cotton Mission.


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