Popular name in cotton closes doors after 142 years

By: Blayne Alexander Email
By: Blayne Alexander Email

The S.M. Whitney company, a big name in cotton and a legend in the South, is closing its doors for good. (September 9, 2010 / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, September 9, 2010

RICHMOND CTY, Ga. --- It’s a big name in cotton, and a legend in the south. Now, the S.M. Whitney Company is closing its doors for good.

“Cotton was king!” remembers Barry Whitney, president of S.M. Whitney Company.

“Augusta, at one time, was the second largest handler of cotton in the United States. You had wagon after wagon after wagon of cotton coming into Augusta.”

Whitney remembers it well. For 58 years of his life, he’s been devoted to running a cotton business that has become an institution in Augusta.

“We are the last ones to stay, and that's a long time: 142 years in the same business,” Whitney says. “But business has changed.”

Now that change is causing Whitney to walk away from it all. He says too much of the cotton business shifting overseas, and that means his is no longer booming.

But as one of Augusta's oldest companies, it's nothing short of legendary.

“All of these warehouses have been jam packed with cotton,” he says, surveying rows of old warehouses. “It goes overseas to China, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Egypt buys a lot of cotton.”

The cotton comes to Whitney’s warehouses after it's gone through a gin and been baled. And if you think the name Whitney sounds familiar when talking about cotton, it should: Barry Whitney is a descendent of Eli Whitney, the man famous for inventing the cotton gin.

“It just happens to be that our whole family, for generations, all the way back to 1792 was in the cotton business,” Whitney says.

“Cotton’s in my blood. I’ve been in it a long time and I hate to leave it.”

Whitney says he is tying up a few loose ends before the business closes for good in a few weeks. Many of the businesses historic pictures have been taken for display by the Augusta Museum of History.

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