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Dayton history group reviews rice farm consolidation in county

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This is a newspaper article highlighting how the Dayton Historical Society has began research on the history of the rice industry in Liberty County Texas. The Dayton Historical Society took a look Monday night at the rice industry in Liberty County through the eyes of one of the few remaining connections to the grain in the area. Eileen Stoesser told 46 members and guests about the history of rice in America and southeast Texas, but especially the background of how Liberty County went from more than 100 rice farmers in the 1970s to just four today. It’s topic easily identified as closer to home for Stoesser. The remaining rice farmers in the county are Ray Stoesser, Neal Stoesser, Grant Stoesser, and Allen Waldrop. Eileen Stoesser presented a Powerpoint program that told of the introduction of rice to America in 1685 when a ship landed in Charleston, South Carolina from Madagascar for repairs. To thank those who repaired the ship, the captain gave them a gift of gold: a sack of golden rice seed. African slaves taught the colonists how to farm rice and rice even became a unit of currency in 1695. Very labor-intensive to grow and mill, rice production greatly increased during the 1700 and 1800s on southern plantations and farms because of the availability of slave labor. Improved mechanical farm equipment also aided the growth of rice farming, especially in the 1840s with Cyrus McCormick’s new reaper. In 1863, David French became the first major rice producer in Texas, his farm located at Beaumont. Until 1892, rice was shipped to New Orleans to be milled; at that time, Joseph Broussard built a mill, also located in Beaumont. The year 1902 was huge for rice farming in Texas. Seito Saibara from Japan came to Texas to teach farmers better techniques. Rice production soared and by 1910, well over 100,000 acres were rice farmed in Texas with 8,000 acres farmed in rice in a 7 mile radius of Dayton. 1915 was an important year in the Stoesser Family and to Dayton: Emil Joseph Stoesser and his wife Tilley came to Eastgate (west of Dayton) from Germany to settle their family and grow rice. Their son Eddie continued to farm and his two sons Jack and Ray did also. The fourth generation of Stoessers now continue the family farming tradition, having over 6,000 acres in production in Liberty and Chambers Counties. Rice is the most eaten grain in the world, thanks in part to the hard working Dayton farmers, past and present, who have dedicated their lives to this worthy profession. The next meeting of Dayton Historical Society is set for 6 p.m. July 25 at Parker Hall, located behind The Old School Museum.

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