Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

A look inside the tobacco barn at the State Fair.

A look inside the tobacco barn at the State Fair.

Late last week, teams of three squared off in what has become an annual State Fair tradition—Duke Homestead’s Tobacco Looping Contest.

The contest highlights what was once a common chore on farms across North Carolina: farmers tied tobacco onto sticks and loaded them into barns, where the crop was cured.  The practice largely fell by the wayside in the mid-20th century as technology improved and tobacco began to be cured in a bulk barn in large containers.

Things to See and Do This Year

The contest also kicks off a host of activities that we’re proud to present at the fair to help you explore our state’s history and heritage. Here are three things to be sure you see on your visit to the fair this year:

  • Explore a working tobacco barn in the Heritage Circle area, managed by Duke Homestead and the N.C. Tobacco Growers Association. You can take a peek at the curing process if you visit during the week, or see the finished product if you stop by on the weekend.
A visitor learns about historic military uniforms after our 2014 revue.

A visitor learns about historic military uniforms after our 2014 revue.

  • Discover the Tar Heel State’s connections to World War I at an exhibit we’ve created in the north lobby of Dorton Arena. You’ll see how the fairgrounds were used a training center and learn more about the how the Great War impacted North Carolina.
  • See interpreters portraying soldiers from throughout American history during the Military Appreciation Parade and our 2nd annual historical uniform revue at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, Wednesday.
  • Experience a mock tobacco auction in the Heritage Circle area Friday at 2 p.m. Though now largely replaced by contracts between tobacco companies and farmers, tobacco auctions were once the center of the economic and social life of many rural North Carolina communities.

A horticultural exhibit at the 1910 State Fair featuring apples
and other fruit. Image from the State Library.

Explore State Fair History from the Comfort of Your Home

Even if you’re not a regular to the N.C. State Fair, you can’t argue that the annual event is part of our state’ rich culture and that it has a deep history. To commemorate those deep roots and help you explore them, the State Archives and State Library offer several great resources:

  • Blue Ribbon Memories: Your History of the N.C. State Fair, is an online exhibit that showcases photographs, premium lists, newspapers clippings and other materials available on our State Fair Ephemera Digital Collection and allows fairgoers to share memories of their own State Fair experiences.
  • Two videos from the State Archives, posted here and here, show the fair as visitors saw it in the 1940s and 1960s, respectively.

Happy exploring! We hope to see you out there at this great North Carolina tradition.

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Secretary Susan Kluttz on a horse-drawn plow at Aycock Birthplace. Photo by Gray Whitley from The Wilson Times.

Secretary Susan Kluttz on a horse-drawn plow at Aycock Birthplace. Photo by Gray Whitley from The Wilson Times.

Plowing, dying and cooking over an open fire were just a few of historical activities Cultural Resources senior staff observed last late week on their visit to the Gov. Charles B. Aycock Birthplace in Fremont. The visit coincided with site’s Farm Heritage Days program, which gave local school kids the opportunity to experience life during the 19th century over four days.

Sec. Kluttz and former Cultural Resources Sec. Betty Ray McCain

Sec. Kluttz and former Cultural Resources Sec. Betty Ray McCain

The Cultural Resources team, composed of Secretary Susan Kluttz, Chief Deputy Secretary Karin Cochran, Deputy Secretary Kevin Cherry, Historic Sites Director Keith Hardison, Historic Sites Deputy Director Dale Coates and Historic Sites Eastern Regional Supervisor Jeff Bockert, began their visit by meeting with local supporters of the site, including former Cultural Resources Secretary Betty Ray McCain.

After hearing concerns from local supporters and site manager Leigh Strickland over the Aycock’s possible dormancy, Sec. Kluttz emphasized that it would it only be temporary and that every division of the department and state government had to sacrifice in these difficult economic times.

“It’s not that we don’t love this place and every other place in this department,” Sec. Kluttz said.

Kluttz then joined local children in an 1893 one-room schoolhouse for a lesson led by Historic Sites Curator of Education Jann Brown. During the lesson, Brown had a dunce cap and a blue back speller—two items that would’ve been common in classrooms of the time.

Sec. Kluttz with Cultural Resources staff members Karin Cochran, Kevin Cherry, Leigh Strickland, Keith Hardison and Jeff Bockert

Sec. Kluttz with Cultural Resources staff members Karin Cochran, Keith Hardison, Leigh Strickland, Dale Coats and Jeff Bockert

The schoolhouse has special significance at Aycock Birthplace, since Charles B. Aycock is frequently called the “education governor” for his dramatic expansion of the state’s public school system. In fact, he is credited with building one school for each day he was in office. When you consider that he served for one four-year term that means he was responsible for the construction of nearly 1,500 schools! Sec. Kluttz noted that the site and the department continue that legacy today.

“Education is the center of everything we do at Cultural Resources,” she said.

Check out more images of the visit here.

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Tillery Resettlement

Tillery Resettlement

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government helped to establish homestead communities that encouraged landownership and, in many cases, fostered agricultural skills. In North Carolina, the resettlement projects took the form of rural farming homestead and one—in Halifax County—was the only resettlement project that held sections for both races.

Of the 113 resettlement across the county, only 13 of offered homesteads to blacks. North Carolina hosted one of the country’s largest ventures in rural Halifax County. The overall project, launched in 1935, was named Roanoke Farms, with the white settlers assigned to a section called Roanoke Farms, and African Americans to a section called Tillery Farms. At its peak, Roanoke Farms (including Tillery) consisted of 294 forty-acre farms, each costing about $7,454.

Homesteaders came from North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida and Arkansas to settle at Roanoke Farms, and the community spirit that was encouraged by the resettlement program continues in the community today.

Check out this article on NCpedia for more on North Carolina agriculture during the era.

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Nearly 20 teams of three competed in a traditional tobacco tying contest Friday at the N.C. State Fair. The annual contest, hosted by Duke Homestead, demonstrating a common chore on farms across North Carolina performed until the mid-20th century.

Farmers tied tobacco onto sticks and loaded them into barns, where the tobacco was cured.  The practice originated after the accidental discovery of the method for curing bright leaf tobacco by a slave on a Caswell County farm in 1839. The practice largely fell by the wayside as technology improved and tobacco began to be cured in a bulk barn in large containers.

If you missed Friday’s contest, have no fear. There are more opportunities to learn about North Carolina’s tobacco heritage at the Fair. All week long, volunteers from Duke Homestead and the state tobacco growers association are staffing a working tobacco barn in Heritage Circle. Visitors will be able to take a peek at the curing process during the week. Weekend visitors to the barn can see the finished product.

Duke Homestead will also put on a mock tobacco auction Friday at 2 p.m. in the Expo Building (see coverage of last year’s auction here). Though tobacco is now sold primarily through contracts between farmers and tobacco companies, auctions were the primary method of tobacco trade between 1859 and 2004. The mock auction celebrates that legacy. We hope to see you there!

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I grew up in Wilson—long nicknamed the World’s Greatest Tobacco Market—but I never heard the extraordinary tale of how bright leaf tobacco was first cured.

An accident in 1839 led to one of the most important breakthroughs in North Carolina agriculture history.   A slave named Stephen on Abisha Slade’s Caswell County farm worked as a blacksmith and oversaw the curing of the tobacco crop. On one occasion, due to the warmth created by the fire, Stephen fell asleep in the curing barn. A few hours later, he woke up to find the fire almost completely out. To try to keep the heat going, he rushed to his blacksmithing pit, retrieved charcoal and threw hot coals on the curing fire, creating a sudden, intense heat. His actions caused the tobacco to cure quickly, leaving it with a vivid yellow color.

Cured bright leaf tobacco. Photograph courtesy of Michael T. Southern, N.C. State Historic Preservation Office.

The new tobacco, which became known as bright leaf tobacco, soon became popular with smokers.  Within a generation, the success of bright leaf made North Carolina a leader in the United States’ tobacco industry.

Tobacco has long been a critical factor in North Carolina’s economy and history.  The tobacco barns that used to dot the landscape, however, are disappearing.  Many farmers have turned to different crops.  And those who still cultivate tobacco use modern technology for curing.  The State Historic Preservation Office has a nifty website that examines surviving tobacco barns of various types and gives tips for preserving them and suggestions on adaptive reuse.

The state’s oldest flue-cure barns are found in the Old Bright Belt and the northern Middle Belt along the Virginia border. The compact barns are most often built of hewn logs. Photograph courtesy of the State Historic Preservation Office.

Both the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly and  Duke Homestead State Historic Site in Durham offer opportunities to explore and learn about traditional tobacco culture.  On September 8th, Duke Homestead is hosting a free  Harvest and Hornworm Festival. Activities will include demonstrations of historic tobacco harvesting, stringing and curing, hornworm races, a MoonPie eating contest, musical entertainment, and craft vendors.

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