South Slope. Asheville.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Covington Planter Company Celebrates 100 years

Henry County Siftings

By T. Larry Smith

Vol. 14, No. 26


Covington Planter Company Celebrates 100 years


The Covington Planter Company, Inc. of Albany, Georgia is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Covington Planter in 2011.  The W. F. Covington Planter Manufacturing Company was started by William Franklin Covington in Headland, Alabama in 1911; the company was briefly moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1917; and back to Headland in 1922; next the company moved to Dothan, Alabama in 1925; and then moved to Georgia in 1981 where the Covington Planter brand is still being designed and manufactured in Albany, Georgia in 2011 for today’s modern farmers. The company incorporated in 1913 in Headland, Alabama. The stockholders included W.F. Covington as President; J.J. Espy, a Headland banker; and Dothan bankers George H. Malone and E.R. Malone.  The company has been incorporated several times through the years with various Covington family stockholders and others. The attached image depicts several company employees standing around the first model of the Covington Cottonseed Planter produced in Headland’s W. F. Covington Planter Manufacturing facility in 1911.    

William (Will) Franklin (Frank) Covington, Sr., (1876-1951) was born in Dale County, Alabama at Bertha on Nov. 22, 1876.  His Parents were Perry Franklin Covington (1854-1903) and Louisa Catharine Hunt Covington (1854-1937).  Will was the eldest of seven siblings : Calvin Claude and Alfred Abner Covington (twins), Lyman Lewis Covington, Parry Cleveland Covington (Mabel Cotton), Robert Reynolds Covington, Vera Bertha Covington (Thomas S. Redding), and Ethel Covington (Prof. William S. Sconyers – a  Principal of Headland’s former Henry County High School).  Will Covington was educated in a private boarding school in Ozark, Alabama.  He became a master farmer, a scientific agriculturalist, an inventor, and a civic, political and religious leader who spent his life improving agricultural methods for southern farmers.  William F. Covington married Eleanor Connerly, daughter of C.P. and Joanna Fluker Connerly of Shorterville and Louisville, Alabama.  Will and Eleanor became parents of Menefee Covington (child death in 1900), William F. Covington, Jr., and Rosalyn Covington (C. Graham Carson). 

Will’s father, Perry F. Covington, purchased two tracts of pineland totaling 195 acres east of Headland in 1897.  Next, he purchased 3.5 acres running from Cleveland Street thru to Depot Street (now South Main St.) in Headland from Pocahontas (Pokie) Long Granberry and husband R.C. Granberry.  Pokie was a niece of S.E. Alabama’s U.S. Congressman W.C. Oates from Abbeville, and she was kindred of Dr. W.S. Oates who had sold the lot to the Granberrys in 1887.   P.F. Covington persuaded his eldest son, Will, to move from Dale County to Headland in 1899 to clear his pineland for cultivation.   Will organized the “Old Fraternal Union of American Lodge” in Headland in 1899 and sold insurance for the lodge.   During this time, Will Covington served as the first rural mail carrier at Headland; he carried mail for route #4 for five years delivering the mail by bicycle and later by motorcycle.  He was also employed by the International Harvester Company selling windmills and farm machinery.  Will became editor of the Headland Post newspaper for a number of years.  In 1909, Will tried to persuade the U.S Department of Agriculture to establish an agricultural experiment farm at Headland. The department failed to establish the farm; however, the agriculture dept. did agree to supervise all manner of farm experiments and demonstrations on his farm.  By 1911, his farm was a veritable experiment farm with his many agricultural experiments and ideas.  Will F. Covington registered the 6th and the 19th automobiles to be registered in Henry County from 1909 to 1911. He first resided on Headland’s West Church Street; that home later became the S.R. Vann, Sr. home and it still stands.  Will next moved to Cleveland Street on the plot where his father lived until his death in 1904.  This beautiful W.F. Covington home was almost destroyed in the 1912 deadly tornado.  Mr. Gary L. Smith and wife Pat remodeled this home in 1993.  This W.F. Covington home also still stands. 

By 1910, Will had become dissatisfied with mule drawn cotton planters in use at that time.  He conceived an idea of planting cottonseed in hills various distances apart, so he began trying to develop such a planter.  He was named V.P. of the Henry County Fair Association in 1911; he was also V.P. of the Southeast Alabama Farmers Institute Society.  By 1911, Will had perfected his invention of a new type of cottonseed planter, and was selling to local farmers on a trial basis.  On April 15, 1911, W.F. Covington, Sr., was commissioned by the Alabama State Board of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to act as the very first Henry County Agricultural Farm Agent, as so requested by officials at API (now Auburn University).  His farm agent office was located in Headland.  The following year in 1912, the Alabama Extension Service was created, and Will Covington stepped aside, for Frank Murphy of Henry County to become the second man to be county agent; however, Frank Murphy was the first Henry County farm agent employed by the Alabama Farm Extension Service.  

In 1912, Mr. Covington organized a company in Headland to manufacture the mule drawn Covington Planter.  By 1913, he received a U.S Patent for his planter and incorporated the Covington Manufacturing Company in Headland.   W.F. Covington, Sr., owned the first radio in Headland.  He would place speakers in his front yard for local citizens to gather and listen to a radio for the first time for many.  He operated the Covington Cotton Gin with four gin heads.  His first cotton gin stood in the vicinity of where the present Headland Farmer’s Co-Op now stands on hwy 134-W.  His next cotton gin stood in the vicinity of Headland’s old water tank.  During will’s days as a farmer, cotton was diseased with blight.  After years of research, he developed a variety of cotton which was not subject to wilt. He marketed this cottonseed as “Covington’s-Toole Wilt Resistant Cotton.”  He sold thousands of tons over the south for planting purposes.   

In January of 1913, Mr. Covington purchased the wood frame building that was built in 1904 by Rev. S.J. Knowles as a guano factory.  This became the home for Covington Planters in Headland.  The building still stands along the railroad just west of the Headland Train Depot site.  This building was later purchased by Headland’s Mr. Emory Solomon in the 1950’s, and he had the building’s exterior covered with tin and was used as his office.  Will served as Headland City Councilman in 1916.  During the year of 1917, Mr. Covington removed his manufacturing plant to Montgomery, Alabama; however, after WWI ended and the economic downturn occurred reversing his planter business, Will decided to move his planter business back to Headland in 1922, where he began to prosper again.  In 1925, at the suggestion of Dothan banker, George H. Malone, Will decided to move Covington Planter Company from Headland to Dothan, Alabama.  In 1928, Headland was chosen as the site for the first new Wiregrass Experiment Sub-Station & Farm.  Part of that station farm later consumed lands from Mr. Covington’s personal experiment farm.  From 1931 to 1935, Mr. Covington served as Recording Secretary for Alabama Governor B.M. Miller in Montgomery.  In 1932, Will designed a new type of fertilizer distributor known as the “Double-Knocker” double-stream distributor.  He sold these all over the south.  He experimented with this combination planter–fertilizer distributor for the Ford-Ferguson Tractor Company for sales to distributors; in 1949 he began selling nationally.  He also designed for other national tractor companies.   He invented a foot powered paddle boat with water wheels on each side of the boat, testing the boat in the McClenney Mill Pond north of Headland.  In 1946, Covington Planters of Dothan moved to a new 20 acre site and into a 40,000 sq. ft. building designed by Will Covington, Sr., on the Dothan-Headland road on the then outskirts of Dothan; which included land for testing equipment. Will was selling 15,000 to 20,000 units a year.  This building still remains, having been used for various other purposes including an Antique Mall outlet.  

William (Will) Franklin Covington died on March 8, 1951 in a New Orleans hospital after an illness of three weeks at age 76 and was buried in the Headland Baptist Cemetery.  He was an active member of the Headland Baptist Church.  Will was still managing his company at the time of his death.  The company was re-incorporated in 1951 by his son, W.F. Covington, Jr., as President; Mrs. W.F. Covington, Sr., as V.P.; and Will’s son-in-law, C. Graham Carson, Jr., as Sec.-Treasurer.  The company remained in the Covington family until 1980 when W.F. Covington, Jr., (1903-1980) of Dothan, Alabama died.  The company was then sold in 1981 and removed to Georgia where the company is still operating as Covington Planter Company in Albany.   The Covington Planter Company is now owned by prominent Atlanta, Georgia investor, C. Mark Pirrung, who also owns several companies including the old Cole Planter Company, est. in 1885, which he purchased in 2003 and moved to Albany, Georgia. W. F. Covington, Sr., had a vision 100 years ago at age 35 in Headland, Alabama - and his dream continues to aid farmers across the U.S. and the world.

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