Sunday, July 28, 2013

smokin weed

Tobacco was THE cash crop in Clarksville, Tennessee starting in the late 1700s. Known as dark fired tobacco grown exclusively in this area, it had the highest nicotine content of all tobaccos. 

photo from Tennessee Century Farms

Grown and cut and dried and graded in tobacco warehouses in Clarksville then loaded onto ships on the Cumberland River headed for the port in New Orleans and on to Europe, where this strong tobacco was very popular.

Clarksville Tobacco Market

Clarksville Tobacco Market

The local newspaper (currently called the Leaf-Chronicle as a result of a merger of the Clarksville Chronicle and the Tobacco Leaf) has a good article in the archives on the history of tobacco HERE:

This city was built on weed.
 "Clarksville tobacco has a world wide reputation. It is noted for its rich, silky, elastic qualities and is better suited than any other brands to the requirements of the European demand," said the 1895 Clarksville edition of the National Trade Review. "Clarksville is the third largest tobacco market in the United States and the largest export market — exporting more tobacco than all the western markets combined."
 As early as 1788, Clarksville was designated by the North Carolina government as an official tobacco inspection site. The 1855 crop had been particularly well received in Germany, Austria, Italy and France. Besides Great Britain, the crop began to ship to Africa, South America and the West Indies.
 For much of the 20th century, Clarksville remained a tobacco powerhouse. The 1965 city directory shows 19 tobacco warehouses in operation where annual auctions drew hundreds of participants. In the 1980s, seven warehouses remained as government quotas began to affect production. In 2004, there were only two. Now there are none.

Tobacco is still grown here today, but it is a little harder to find for the average tourist like me. A lot of the farm land has been turned into subdivisions. There are still a lot of fields in the area, but they are growing mostly corn, some soybeans. I found this one tobacco patch about 5 miles from our campground.

smoking tobacco barn by MyFirefighterNation

Even if the tobacco is not grown as much as it used to be, there is still the evidence of the popular crop, just take a drive through the countryside and you will see a tobacco barn at every farm.

"What these farmers here do is, about early September, they go into their tobacco barns and dig a little hole in the earth, start a small fire: the smoke rises up through the barn, through their tobacco crop that has been cut and is drying out, and travels up into the sky. Well, if you’ve ever seen a tobacco barn smoking you’d know you can smell it for miles before you see it! Then the next farmer on down the road receives the message, if you will, and does the same in his barn, and so on and so on. Before long, every area within a ten mile radius of this place is perfumed with the smell of cut tobacco. This smell is comparable to a pep rally bonfire, or a warm log on the fire in winter, only much richer." ~Beth Britton, author for Clarksville Online

The tobacco industry has of course dwindled over the years, but then again it is apparently alive and well, just go into any convenience store and look above the clerk's head at all the different kinds. And just listen to the radio, where one of the most popular country songs out right now has the line, "chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit."

photos: Clarksville Tobacco Market from Felix G. Woodward Library at Austin Peay State University; other vintage photo from Tennessee Century Farms; smoking tobacco barn picture from My Firefighter Nation article on how to fight tobacco barn fires.

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