Throughout the southern United States many types of specialized buildings developed over time. Their original functions have often been superseded but their historical value is great as is their beauty.
Tobacco barns, pack houses or strip house, animal barns, hay barns, silos, summer kitchens, sheds, water mills, grist mills, saw mills, water wheels, spring houses, chicken coops, summer houses, honeymoon cottages, coal house, root cellars, wash houses, well houses, pig pens, school houses, covered bridges, outhouses, smoke houses, slave pens, and slave quarters all fall into this grouping of interesting and often lovely old buildings.
The tobacco industry was very important in the US south, forming the base for many economic and social relationships. Tobacco barns have become symbolic of the industry and its history and consequently with the history of the US south. Some organizations and individuals work to restore and preserve these buildings; both for their historical value and for their intrinsic worth. Other organizations and individuals recognize the dollar value of these buildings and tear them down in order to sell the old “barn wood” (which is quite expensive now). Sometimes these buildings are converted for other uses such as a vacation home, a primary residence, bed and breakfasts, a museum or a store. Sometimes they are moved to a new location at great expense and often with much debate over the appropriateness of the move. Sadly, many are left to rot in place.
Tobacco barns built from 1838 (when flue-curing was first discovered) to the 1950s - 80s (when the industry gradually changed) were distinct from other barns in their functiona as well as their construction. They tend to vary from locality to locality but even within the same area there was often a lot of individualization of each barn. In common they have functional elements to allow for heat assisted air drying (flue-curing) and storage of tobacco leaves.
During this time period in the US south tobacco leaves were sold by the farmer only after they were dried (cured).
The leaves were picked, sometimes strung together in bunches (called “hands”) in a tobacco pack or strip house and hung (“looped”) over 4 – 5 foot sticks which were then placed (“housed”) high on tiers inside the tobacco barns. Entire plants were also speared on the sticks and the leaves were left to dangle from the stem during drying. Either way, the tobacco barn was used for curing the leaf by use of steadily increasing heat for several days and then for storage of the dried product before it was sent to market at a tobacco auction.
Flue-cured tobacco is lemon-yellow in color and milder than darker tobacco. It is referred to simply as “Bright”. Bright sold at a higher price than darker tobacco.
Modern bulk curing methods have made the old flue-curing tobacco barn obsolete.
Tobacco barns had in common things that were functional such as:
- Interior rafters (often multi-tiered) that are not for supporting the barn itself. They hold the sticks on which the tobacco leaves are tied or on which the entire tobacco plants with leaves still attached is speared through the stem. Either way, the hands or plants are left dangling below to dry.
Ability to be heated
Good cross ventilation as well as ability to seal out air leaks
A roof line that extends to form a porch or a lean-to was commonly, but not always connected to the barn
Large doors that allowed the entry of a wagon carrying the tobacco in from the field
Tobacco barns showed much individuality in other ways such as:
Number of tiers
Size and shape of the barn footprint
Porch or lean to attachments (numbers, size, shapes, etc.)
Type of roofing material used
Type of wood used (board or log)
Decorative painting, often in the form of tobacco advertisements that covered an entire barn side
"Tobacco advertisements painted on the sides of barns are not part of the settlement and will remain part of the landscape." CNN story on the abolition of the Marlborrow Man
was the source of photo on my home node (used with permission) and also was an informational resource. The photo is no longer on my homenode but can still be seen at the museum's website.
Technical specs for building your own tobacco barn can be found here:
Many, many lovely pictures showing the wide variety of tobacco barns can be seen by doing a Google Images search on “tobacco barn”.