Themed Photo Gallery & Information: Hopson Plantation, Mississippi
Hopson Plantation, just outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, was originally a large, thriving farm operation. The historic Hopson Plantation Commissary stands today in much the same condition as in its glory days over fifty years ago. The building is full of antique and historical items which create a nostalgic atmosphere reminiscent of the deep south Delta. It’s a place to hear the blues, experience the history and enjoy the Delta.
In 1935 the Hopson Plantation began a monumental changeover to become one of the first completely mechanized cotton operations in the world. In the fall of 1944, International Harvester introduced the first cotton picker on the Hopson farm making it the first in the world to grow and harvest a commercial acreage of cotton produced completely by mechanical methods. From planting, to cultivating, to irrigating, to harvesting, to ginning, the Hopson enterprise became the showplace of Delta farming.
Today The Hopson Commissary is a blues music venue and lodging accommodation. The adjacent Shack Up Inn similarly provides blues music events and workshops and accommodation where you can immerse yourselves in the living history found within restored sharecropper shacks (not slave shacks!), the original cotton gin, seed houses, other outbuildings and artefacts in the grounds. The Photo Gallery below features many of the plantation buildings and artifacts.
At the time of our visit in 2008 I believe the Hopson Commissary and Shack up Inn were run as one entity but are now totally separate enterprises.
To give you an idea of what’s there, here is an extract from The Shack Up Inn website:
“The Ritz We Ain’t”
Blues lovers making the pilgrimage to the cradle of the blues, the Mississippi Delta, should not miss the unique opportunity to experience Hopson Plantation, located only three miles from the legendary Crossroads, Highways 49 and 61, in Clarksdale. Immerse yourself in the living history you will find at Hopson. Virtually unchanged from when it was a working plantation, you will find authentic sharecropper shacks, the original cotton gin and seed houses and other outbuildings. You will glimpse plantation life as it existed only a few short years ago. In addition, you will find one of the first mechanized cotton pickers, manufactured by International Harvester, as you stroll around the compound. Spend an evening enjoying live music at Ground Zero Blues Club or Red’s Lounge, on the corner of Sunflower and MLK Street and then pass out in one of the renovated shotgun shacks or one of the newly renovated bins in the Cotton Gin Inn. Their corrugated tin roofs and Mississippi cypress walls will conjure visions of a bygone era. Restored only enough to accommodate 21st century expectations (indoor bathrooms, heat, air conditioning, coffee maker with condiments, refrigerators and microwave in all the units), the shacks provide comfort as well as authenticity.
The shotgun house plays a role in the folklore and culture of the south. Superstition holds that ghosts and spirits are attracted to shotgun houses because they may pass straight through them, and that some houses were built with doors intentionally misaligned to deter these spirits. They also often serve as a convenient symbol of life in the south. Elvis Presley was born in a shotgun house, Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers grew up in one, and according to David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Robert Johnson is said to have died in one.
During our stay we rented the ‘Fullilove’ Shack. Named after the family who originally owned the shack, the Fullilove Shack is one of the earliest shacks re-located at the Shack Up Inn, all the way from Duncan, Mississippi. Below in the Photo Gallery you will see an early Shack Up Inn poster featuring the Fullilove Shack.
For more information about the two enterprises check out:
From The Mississippi Encyclopedia:
In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Hopson Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, spearheaded the adoption of mechanization for large-scale commercial agriculture in the Delta, becoming the first plantation to use a mechanical cotton picker.
The Hopson family purchased the tract of land that would become the plantation from the State of Mississippi in 1852. As in much of the Mississippi Delta, the level, well-drained alluvial soil on the Hopsons’ land was ideally suited for cotton production. During the late nineteenth century the plantation grew to four thousand acres, with approximately thirty-one hundred under cultivation.
The Hopson family subsequently became interested in utilizing new technology to improve crop yield and reduce labor costs. In 1914 the plantation became one of the first in the region to use a tractor and soon followed that innovation with the use of pickup trucks. During the 1930s the plantation halved its cotton acreage as a result of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration’s cotton program. To help increase the yield on the reduced acreage and to decrease costs, the family permitted the International Harvester Company to use the plantation as a developmental station for a mechanical cotton picker beginning in 1935.
The first public demonstration of the device took place at the Hopson Plantation on 2 October 1944 in front of three hundred onlookers. This picker was capable of harvesting six acres per day—far more than even a skilled worker could harvest by hand. The family estimated that the machine reduced the cost of production from $39.41 per bale to $5.26. Shortly thereafter, the plantation became the testing ground for a flame cultivator, which mechanized the process of clearing weeds.
These advances coincided with and helped further the decline of the sharecropping system in southern commercial agriculture. The Great Migration to northern cities had dramatically reduced the supply of agricultural laborers throughout the South. By the 1920s the Hopson Plantation was one of many that had come to rely largely on day workers and seasonal migrant laborers. For this reason, most cotton plantation owners eagerly anticipated the perfection of a mechanical picker and other devices that would minimize the need for human labor.
By 1950 the Hopson Plantation had become fully automated, and all elements of premechanized production had been eliminated. As a state-of-the-art operation, the plantation became a model for other plantations, and it remained a testing ground for agricultural machinery. It operated as an independent commercial cotton farm until 1972.
In the 1970s Clarksdale’s role in the development of blues music became more widely appreciated, and the Hopson Plantation began a second life as a tourist destination. During the 1990s local businessmen purchased the core of the plantation and converted the buildings into a hotel, a concert hall, and a meeting venue. The plantation now serves as a hot spot for those seeking to better understand the history and culture of the Mississippi Delta.
Written by Trevor Smith, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
Further historical reading:
Donald Holley, The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the Modern South (2000)
Howell Hopson, Mechanization of a Delta Cotton Plantation as Applied to Hopson Planting Company (1944)
Hopson Plantation Commissary website, www.hopsonplantation.com
Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1992)
Bill Tipton, “Mechanical Cultivation and Picking of Cotton, Dream of Industry, Comes True,” ACCO Press 22 (November 1944)
Bill Talbot and James Butler, interviews by Trevor A. Smith (September 2007)
Article Title: Hopson Plantation
Author: Trevor Smith
Website Name: Mississippi Encyclopedia – URL http://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/hopson-plantation/
Access Date: February 13, 2020
Publisher: Center for Study of Southern Culture
Original Published Date: July 11, 2017
Date of Last Update: April 14, 2018
For those interested in more detail about the economic and social structure called “sharecropping” here is a short discussion on the subject:
Mississippi Blues Trail Markers – Pinetop Perkins (Hopson & Belzoni)
Hopson Marker Text:
One of the major factors behind the “great migration” of African Americans from the South to northern cities was the mechanization of agriculture, which diminished the need for manual laborers. In 1944 the Hopson Planting Company produced the first crop of cotton to be entirely planted, harvested, and baled by machine. Blues pianist Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins was a tractor driver here at the time. He later played in the band of Muddy Waters and enjoyed a successful solo career.
Cotton and the blues are intimately connected, and one popular explanation for the predominance of blues in the Delta is the great concentration of African Americans whose labor was required for the cultivation of cotton here. Fieldhands who could play guitar or piano provided entertainment for other workers, and sometimes pursued music as a profession to get out of the backbreaking work in the fields. Blues performers have recalled making more money playing on Saturday nights than laborers would earn in a whole week.
Here at Hopson in the 1940s pianist Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins managed to keep a foot in both worlds, working as a tractor driver and as a professional entertainer. While living in the Delta Perkins worked in local jukes with artists including Lee Kizart and Robert Nighthawk, and performed on the radio show King Biscuit Time with Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller) on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. The live program was broadcast weekdays at 12:15 p.m. when agricultural workers were at home eating lunch. Perkins, who remembered John Lee Hooker sometimes playing here at Hopson, later taught Ike Turner to play piano.
According to military records Perkins was inducted into the Army in June of 1943, but he recalled that the plantation owners were able remove him from a bus of draftees, as tractor drivers were deemed essential to the war effort. Other bluesmen who served as tractor drivers during World War II included B.B. King, Son House, and Muddy Waters. As a tractor driver, Perkins played an important role in mechanization of cotton production, as the Hopson Planting Company was at the forefront of this transformation. From the ’20s through ’40s engineers from the International Harvester Company tested and developed tractor-mounted cotton pickers at Hopson. In 1944 they succeeded in harvesting a crop using only machines, and the technology was soon implemented across the South, resulting in changes including the replacement of the sharecropping system with wage labor and the destruction of the abandoned homes of displaced workers.
Perkins left the Delta in the late ’40s, and worked for many years in bands with Earl Hooker, Muddy Waters, and others. He began returning to the Delta to perform after appearing at the first King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena in 1986. He became a regular at the annual Helena festival as well as at Hopson, where an annual celebration was inaugurated in his honor in 2001. Perkins was also honored with a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in his hometown of Belzoni in 2008.
Belzoni Marker Text:
Blues piano master Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins was born on July 7, 1913, on the Honey Island Plantation, seven miles southeast of Belzoni. Perkins spent much of his career accompanying blues icons such as Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 and Muddy Waters. After he began to tour and record as a featured singer and soloist in the 1980s, Perkins earned a devoted following among enthusiasts who hailed him as the venerated elder statesman of blues piano.
Perkins did not have an album under his own name in the United States until he was seventy-five years old (in 1988), but during the next two decades he recorded more than fifteen LPs and CDs as the reigning patriarch of blues piano. Perkins started out on guitar, but he also learned piano as a youngster, influenced by local pianists and by the records of Clarence “Pine Top” Smith and others. Smith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” of 1929 was so popular that many pianists, including Perkins, took up boogie woogie and sometimes even adopted the name “Pine Top,” or “Pinetop.”
Perkins spent much of his childhood moving around the Delta, living with his mother or other relatives, or with his friend, guitarist Boyd Gilmore, on a plantation with Gilmore’s grandparents. Perkins picked cotton, worked as handyman, mechanic, and truck driver, and began playing at juke joints, house parties, and cockfights. His first professional job in music was as a guitarist with blues legend Robert Nighthawk. In the 1940s Perkins played piano on radio broadcasts with Nighthawk and with Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller) on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. When a woman stabbed him in Helena, the injury forced him to give up the guitar, although he was already becoming better known as a pianist. Perkins also drove a tractor on the Hopson plantation near Clarksdale. In Clarksdale he later mentored a young Ike Turner on piano and began working with another prodigy, guitarist Earl Hooker.
Perkins first recorded as pianist on a Nighthawk session in Chicago in 1950. In 1953 Perkins recorded two versions of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” when he, Boyd Gilmore, and Earl Hooker did a session together for Sam Phillips’s Sun label in Memphis. Pinetop continued to play with Nighthawk, Hooker, and others at different times and also worked at a laundry and a garage. In 1969, when Otis Spann–another noted pianist with Belzoni roots–left the Muddy Waters band, Waters called on Perkins to take his place. International touring and recording with Muddy brought him widespread recognition, and he made his first album in 1976 for a French label. In 1980 Perkins and other band members left Muddy and formed the Legendary Blues Band. After recording two albums with the unit, Perkins embarked on his belated solo career.
In addition to Perkins and Spann, other blues artists who were born in on near Belzoni or who lived here include Denise LaSalle, Boyd Gilmore, Eddie Burns, Paul “Wine” Jones, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, and Elmore James.
Personal Note on Pinetop Perkins
In June 2008 whilst on our ‘Deep South EarlyBlues’ tour we stayed at the Hopson Plantation / Shack up Inn in Clarksdale. We arrived on a Monday only to find Pinetop Perkins had been there on the previous Friday to attend the unveiling of the above Hopson Mississippi Blues Trail marker.
In December 2008 I received advance notice that Pinetop Perkins was coming over to the UK and appearing at the Jazz Café, London on 12th & 14th March 2009. I requested and was granted an interview with Pinetop together with a press pass for the event. I duly arranged travel and hotel accommodation in London to make sure I could attend both gigs. Sadly it wasn’t to be, Pinetop was unwell and unable to travel so it was all cancelled. I never did meet Pinetop as he passed away in March 2011. Here is the advance poster of the non-event:
Hopson Plantation Photo Gallery
All images taken in 2008 (it may have changed a bit since then – but hopefully not a lot)
More soon ….