Memphis Cotton Exchange plans museum

The Memphis Cotton Exchange and the cotton community have launched a project to create a museum devoted to the story of cotton "From Field to Fabric."

The museum, which will feature the latest in electronic interactive technology and animatronic displays, as well as an array of historic photographs, artifacts, and oral histories by people in the industry, will be located on the 5,000-square foot floor of the historic Exchange building in downtown Memphis.

"The story of cotton is, in a sense, the story of Memphis," says John J. Leary, president. "Each segment of the industry - farming, ginning, warehousing, merchandising, and spinning - has its own unique story and cast of characters. Our plan is to create an exhibit that will make the story of this industry come alive."

The museum will "emphasize the character, hardships, and successes of the businessmen and women" of the area cotton industry.

For many years, Leary notes, the members of the Exchange have wanted to preserve the heritage and history of the cotton industry and its relationship with the people of the Mid-South area. To that end, a consulting firm was hired to assess the viability of a permanent museum and educational center.

The consultants have worked with the Exchange board of directors over the past two years "to define a facility that will capture the rich heritage of the people, equipment, traditions, and spirit of the `cotton man' from field to fabric," he says.

Preliminary design and historical research have been done, with costs borne by the Exchange and "some of its benevolent members," with the balance of the project's costs to be raised through general donations and/or private sponsorships for specific exhibits, Leary says.

The overall project is expected to cost $1.5 million, with completion targeted for the spring of 2001.

The plan is for the museum to become a viable, self-sustaining facility that will become a destination for tourists, students, and business travelers/convention-goers. It is expected that an admission fee will be charged.

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