Words and pictures from the author of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Old Tobacco Barn
The old tobacco barns that dot the landscape in our county sometimes puzzle uninformed visitors who remember snug red New England barns or massive white-boarded Midwestern structures. The visitors laugh and shake their heads and go back home to tell their friends about the ignorant hillbillies of Appalachia -- too shiftless to make a barn that'll keep the weather out. Sometimes they assume that once there was chinking between the logs and the present generation hasn't bothered to repair it. But they're wrong on both counts.
These beautiful old silvery-gray buildings were meant to let the air in -- built specifically to air-cure burley tobacco, at one time the major crop in our county. Inside the barns, stout tier poles stretch from end to end, four or five or more tiers high. When the tobacco was harvested, the stalks of the whole tobacco plants would be impaled on tobacco sticks -- five plants per stick. Then these sticks would be hung from the tier poles, rank after rank of wilting yellow-green leaves till the barn was full. From September till November the leaves would cure in the mountain air, their tarnished chartreuse hue giving way eventually to a rich golden brown that said the leaves were ready to be stripped from the stalks, sorted and graded, and taken to market.
Proud old barns, built right for the job they did.
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