Lake Prince Woods residents tour cotton gin

Published 7:33 pm Saturday, November 24, 2012

By Susan Stone
Special to the News-Herald

Every month residents at Lake Prince Woods retirement community take trips to sites of local interest, such as museums, theaters and historical attractions. One of their recent trips was of interest not only because of the unique nature of the business they visited, but also because it is owned by the family of a Lake Prince Woods resident.

The visit was to Commonwealth Cotton Gin in Windsor, owned by the Alphin family. Betty Alphin, mother of Tom and Len Alphin, has lived at Lake Prince Woods since January 2010 and accompanied the group on their trip.

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“We got quite an education,” resident Peg Cicirelli said. “The Alphins were so informative, and it was a wonderful trip.” She and her husband Ray took cotton samples to show family members in northern Virginia.

Johnny Parker, Commonwealth Gin’s agronomist, explained to the Lake Prince Woods visitors about picking and processing cotton. Once the cotton is picked and baled, it is brought to the gin, where it is weighed and staged. Later the bolls are broken apart, the seed cotton is pre-cleaned and dried, and then the seed is separated from the lint.

“After the seed is separated from the lint, the lint is combed and pressed and comes out looking like a 500-pound Q-tip,” said Tom Alphin, one of the gin’s owners.

The Alphin family opened the Windsor cotton gin in 1992 and opened a second one in Franklin in 1995. Up until then, most area farmers rotated corn and peanuts in their fields, but they began to talk about re-introducing cotton back into the area.

“It was almost a situation of us saying to the farmer, ‘We’ll build it if you’ll come,’ and they said, ‘If you’ll build it we’ll come,’” recalled Len Alphin, another one of the gin’s owners.

Lake Prince Woods is a nonprofit residential retirement community bordering Suffolk’s Lake Prince and offering an array of lifestyle choices.