December 11, 1919: Enterprise Alabama Honors the Boll Weevil

The Boll Weevil moved into the South via Mexico in the 1890s and reached the Alabama Cotton Fields around 1915. It was just a little bug, about a half an inch long, but it had a voracious appetite for the boll of the cotton plant.

“De cotton come up and started to growin’, and, suh, befo’ de middle of May I looks down one day and sees de boll weevil settin’ up dere in de top of dem little cotton stalks waitin’ for de squares to fo’m. So all dat gewano us hauled and put down… made nuttin’ but a crop of boll weevils.”

Boll weevilCoffee County Alabama got his particularly hard – 60% of the cotton harvest was eaten up by the pest in 1915, and as local farmers went bankrupt, one after another, they looked around for another crop to plant that could resist the blight.

Following the disastrous 1915 harvest, local business leaders travelled to Virginia and North Carolina to look at alternative crops that might be planted in the county. They needn’t have travelled so far. Dr. George Washington Carver from the nearby Tuskegee Institute had been researching for some time into an alternative crop, the peanut, which when properly cultivated not only returned vital nutrients to soils depleted by cotton cultivation, but also promised a successful cash crop for local farmers.

Peanuts became the crop of the future for Coffee County. A local farmer agreed to plant his entire 125-acre farm to peanuts in 1916. This venture proved to be a huge success, and after another devastating weevil year in 1916, growers all over the county wanted peanut seed.

In 1917, Coffee County produced more than one million bushels of peanuts that sold for more than $5 million. By 1919, Coffee County was the largest peanut producing county in the United States.
This fortuitous turn of events inspired a prominent Enterprise merchant, Roscoe “Bon” Fleming, to propose a monument in honor of what the weevil had done for the diversification and rescue of the economy of Coffee County. Fleming personally paid $1,795, more than one half the cost of the monument, and it was ordered from Italy.

On December 11, 1919, with bands playing and flags flying and more than 3,000 people in attendance, the “Boll Weevil Monument” was unveiled –  a lady statue and a fountain bearing a bronze plaque which reads, “In profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity, this monument is erected by the citizens of Enterprise — December 11, 1919.

The bug held aloft by Enterprise’s heroic lady was added some years later.

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