Today is Tobacco Heritage Day at the L.W. Paul Living History Farm. This is a living history farm from the time period of 1900 to 1955, owned by Horry County Government. We're part of the Horry County Museum. On Tobacco Heritage Day we demonstrate how they would have harvested and gathered tobacco, even tied tobacco before the 1955 era.
Tobacco culture was an important feature of our economy in Horry County for nearly a century. Indeed, today it is difficult to imagine the extent to which tobacco dominated the economy of Horry County.
Cotton had been king in the south for generations, but by the 1880s, the old monarch had fallen on hard times. Cigarette smoking was becoming popular here and in Europe, and greater supplies of leaf tobaccos were needed to meet this demand. No-one knows exactly when the first tobacco was planted in Horry, but as early as the 1850s a few Horry farmers were planting small patches, typically a few dozen plants. As tobacco culture continued to spread during the 1890s and the early 1900s, the region showed great enthusiasm for the new staple.
The countryside prospered and market towns thrived, and well into the 20th century, change was recorded on the landscape as fields were cleared, barns raised, swamps drained, rails laid and roads paved, in tobacco's name.
Stringing tobacco under a tobacco barn like they've been doing here today took a lot of skill. It was almost an art to be able to string tobacco and so kids in this time period were taught from the very beginning just being around their parents feet as they were harvesting tobacco and they'd begin to see how it was done, and then they would learn that as they grew up into that culture.
The men were mostly in the field cropping or priming tobacco, as it was called, and you needed to know which leaves to harvest. Of course, today we were getting the last leaves from the stalk, but through the year they may harvest that tobacco seven times sometimes, taking two to three to four leaves from the plant every time, and you needed to know which leaves to break off because if you got the green ones that wouldn't ripe, then it wouldn't cure out. You couldn't sell it to get your money from your work for the year, so they needed to know which leaves to break off. Then they needed to know how to get their hand around the stalk so they got the complete leaf off, not to leave the stem on the stalk because that was weight, that was taking out of your profit.
One thing that characterized the tobacco culture here was flue-curing, a modern process at that time, where they could speed up the drying of the green tobacco into the dried or cured, as they call it, leaf which is gold and a sort of yellow color, which then they could process into cigarettes and they had a modern way of doing it in airtight barns. It would take about five days to cure, rather than the older method, which they would hang it up to just dry naturally, which took four or five weeks. So you could speed the process up.
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