Production of Cotton Byproducts
To persons familiar with the history of McCormick, the Dorn Mill stands as a symbol of the influence of the Dorn family in the region. It rests on land previously owned by Gold Mine "Billy" Dorn and Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper.
Cyrus McCormick influenced the location of the railroad and in 1881 donated 40 acres of land for a town. By 1883, this town had a population of 200 people, and cotton gins and shipping were the major economic activities. In 1898, the McCormick's conveyed this portion of land to the railroad for construction of a steam-powered cotton seed oil mill and cotton gin.
After the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the south became dependent on the one-crop economy of cotton. With the developing railroad system, which allowed more cotton to reach the marketplace, and introduction of textile manufacturing in the 1880s, the economy continued to be dominated by the growth, milling, and shipping of cotton products. Cottonseed, a byproduct of the ginning process, was viewed as having little value other than feed for livestock.
By the time of the mill's transformation into a highly engineered plant utilizing steam power, the energy saving methods pioneered by Oliver Evans (1795) were widely implemented. Corn and wheat moved by cups and belts (vertically) and screw conveyors (horizontally) through the milling process. The plant only required two employees, one to power the boilers and engines and the second the run the mill. The related lumberyard (owned by M.G. and J.J. Dorn) across the tracks to the northeast continued to provide sawdust/shavings as fuel for the steam plants. When the milling production ceased in the 1940s, the steam engines powered the cotton gin into the 1950s.
Loss of Productivity
Planters continued to meet the industrial demands and paid little attention to land conservation practices which reduced the natural productivity of the soil. In 1919 the boil weevil introduced yet another disastrous problem.
In response to the destruction of the main money crop, farmers finally made efforts towards crop diversification and livestock production. In the early 1920s, M.G. & J.J. Dorn (great-nephews of "Billy" Dorn) converted the mill for the production of meal, flour, and animal feed.
The cottonseed oil industry attained commercial importance in the South in the 1880s. The industry used the seed (a by product of cotton ginning) to produce marketable commodities such as: seed hulls for stock feed or fuel; linters for stuffing mattresses and pillows; and crude seed oil refined as edible oil.