The Boll Weevil Monument: The Only Monument in the World
Dedicated to a Pest, 1919
Dedication of the Boll Weevil Monument, 11 December 1919.
It stands in front of Farmers and Merchants Bank (now WKMX Radio station). To the
left of the bank is the General Store owned by Edgar Laney and Roscoe Conklin
The Mexican boll weevil, a member of the beetle family which
feeds on the silky fibers inside the bolls (seed pods) of the cotton plant, had moved
across the border from Mexico into Texas in 1892, and gradually made its way north and
westward into the prime cotton-producing lands of the South. In spite of efforts by
Coffee County farmers to destroy the pest, by 1915, their cotton crops were failing and
the output of Enterprise cotton gins dropped from 15,000 to 5,000 bales. Farmers were
unable to pay their debts, and merchants were caught in the squeeze. In a desperate
effort to save the local economy, banker and cotton merchant H. M. Sessions and County
Agent John Pittman travelled to North Carolina and Virginia to search for alternate crops.
They became convinced that peanuts would produce well in south Alabama, and bought
a load of seed peanuts, "North Carolina Runners", which they shipped home. Mr.
Sessions convinced one local farmer, Mr. Baston, to plant his entire acreage in peanuts.
Meanwhile, all the other farmers planted more cotton than ever before in hopes that
the boll weevil would leave some to pick. At harvest time, the cotton farmers found
that the weevils had destroyed most of the crop -- only 1500 bales were produced in 1916.
Mr. Baston, however, harvested a peanut crop worth $8,000. Much of his
harvest became seed peanuts for the other famers, who rapidly abandoned cotton when they
saw what Baston's farm had produced. In 1917, Coffee County produced over one
million bushels of peanuts that sold for more than $5,000,000. By 1919, Coffee
County was the largest peanut-producing area in the United States.
One day in 1919, Roscoe Owen Fleming, grandson of John Alexander
Fleming, told a friend that the boll weevil had done so much for the economy of
Enterprise, "we ought to build a monument to that insect." He originally
had been joking, but as he thought about it, the idea appealed. He ordered a statue
from Italy, which sat at the local train depot for six months while he tried to collect
enough money to pay for it. He ended up paying half the total cost of $1795.00 from
his own pocket.
The monument was dedicated in 1919. Dr. George Washington
Carver of Tuskegee Institute was scheduled to deliver the oration, but was unable to make
his train connection. The dedicatory speech was given by Luther Fuller of South
Carolina. On the base of the monument is the following inscription:
In profound appreciation
Of the boll weevil
And what it has done
As the herald of prosperity
This monument was erected
By the citizens of
Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama
The monument has been altered several times over the years.
Originally, it was just a statue of a woman. Later she was given a boll weevil to hold
aloft. The original bug was stolen (some said by a rival football team, others said
by Camp Rucker soldiers who took it to Korea), and the replacement bug disappeared a few
times as well but has always been found (once on the roof of the courthouse). The
fountain has been redone numerous times, especially after the several occasions when
Dothan football supporters added laundry detergent to the water.
Roscoe Owen Fleming was a merchant, the son of James Thomas
Fleming (son of Robert
Alexander Fleming) and Anna Norwood. He was locally known for a promotion in
which he released a bunch of guineas inside his store and gave a discount to anybody who
could catch one.
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