Thursday Doors – The End of Shade

Barn 22

Open for business

Way back in June 2015, I featured a few barns and some other photos from nearby Shade Tobacco farms. I’ll try not to repeat too much, but tobacco, grown under shade cloth, has been a staple of Connecticut’s agriculture industry for well over 100 years. Tobacco in general, was already being grown by Native Americans in CT when the first town, Windsor, was founded in 1633. Within 10 years, commercial production was underway. Over time, CT growers perfected a method of mimicking the growing conditions of the islands near the equator, by covering the tobacco fields in shade cloth.

We may have seen the last of those beautiful fields.

According to an article published in Crain’s Connecticut in September, Shade Tobacco’s dominance of the premium cigar wrapper market is being threatened by the more common broadleaf tobacco variety.

Shade tobacco has historically been viewed as prestigious, and as a premium wrapper commanding higher market prices. After being viewed for decades as fit mostly for cigar binding, the bolder-tasting broadleaf is becoming increasingly popular as wrapper among premium cigar smokers and producers, according to Cigar Aficionado reporting.”

The tobacco farms will continue growing tobacco, but not necessarily under shade. Some cigar manufactures still prefer shade-grown wrapper leaves, but their demand is shrinking, as is the overall demand for tobacco products.

The tobacco farmers within a few miles of our house, are still growing tobacco, but they also have for sale signs on some of their fields. The field that is actually in our town, has been stripped of its shade cloth, poles, wires and all. It’s now an open field of cover crop grasses.

Before tobacco is no longer an industry in this area, I decided to get a few photos of the barns in use. This is not an easy task. Tobacco farm security is as effective, if not more effective as the Secret Service. I mean someone did walk into the White House about two years ago. I don’t think anyone is getting inside these tobacco barns when they have tobacco in them. I’ve seen the approaching black SUV while taking photos from the street between 6:00 and 6:30 am!

The tobacco leaves are picked, stitched together and bound to long wooden carriers. These are transported by wagon and then suspended in the tobacco barns to let the tobacco dry under controlled conditions.

The barns are built with long vertical slat walls. Every 3rd or 4th slat is hinged, and can be propped open to allow airflow. At other times, the slats are closed. At some point, the entire barn is wrapped in plastic and propane heaters are used to help dry the tobacco. I don’t pretend to understand the complicated process, but I do know that driving by the barns when the heaters are in use could convince you to start smoking. The aroma is heavenly.

Enjoy the photos in the gallery. Most of them were taken in nearby Windsor, CT, at the O.J. Thrall Tobacco farm. Some were taken in Enfield, CT, about 10 miles away.

This post is part of Thursday Doors, an interesting and fun series supported by Norm Frampton and several dozen door freaks aficionados each week. If you want to participate, drive your tractor over to Norm’s page. Check out his doors, because he always has some very cool doors, and then look for the blue button. I think it has a frog on it. Click the button and you will land on the list of Thursday Doors participants. You can add your door(s) or you can poke around and see interesting doors from all over the world. I kid you not, all – over – the – world! Thursday Doors is an international thing!

About Dan Antion

Husband, father, woodworker, cyclist, photographer, geek - oh wait, I’m writing this like I only have 140 characters. I am all those things, and more, and all of these passions present me with opportunities to observe, and think about things that I can’t write about in other places. I have started this blog to catch the stuff that falls out, overflows and just plain doesn’t fit the other containers in my life.
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77 Responses to Thursday Doors – The End of Shade

  1. Rustic and relaxing images Dan. Thanks for sharing the photos. I’ve never seen barns with all those “opening” parts… So educational too. Hugs

    Like

  2. reocochran says:

    Such a beautiful collection of photos! I once took a photograph of a barn using its open door as a frame but your gorgeous, red barn photo with the blue sky and green details was perfection, Dan.
    Have a wonderful day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Robin. Most of the farms around us have these barns set pretty far back from the road. But, these two farms have some barns that are very close. I wish they wouldn’t mind people taking photos as much as they seem to. I’d love to walk around in one of these barns.

      Like

  3. That was interesting reading, Dan. I’ve seen tobacco barns on Amish farms here in PA but didn’t know much about how they worked.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. I remember your post on tobacco farms, but it was good to read it again. I loved the barn #7 image with its alternate close-open wood thing (I don’t know what you call it professionally) to let the air and sunlight pass through. Over the years, I have known so much about the United States, or should I say about New England through you and others. I know very few people on the West Coast so don’t know much about those states. Do you smoke Dan? I mean have you tried it? A cigarette or a cigar? Sorry for this abrupt question. Now that we are talking about tobacco it just came up my mind. As far as I am concerned, I come from a disciplined family so I had no chance of smoking, but after my parents passed away I worked in bars and restaurants and there I got into this habit of smoking with colleagues. However, after few months, I had this self-realization that if my mother was here in spirit would she be happy watching me smoke because now that she is not here I am stepping away from what she taught me. That day was the last day I smoked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Sharukh. I tried not to duplicate what I said before. These things are so prevalent around here, I figured I could get away with a few posts on them :)

      I never smoked. My father did, but he quit when he was in his 40s. He gave cigarettes up for Lent one year and just never started again. He said that he felt so much better that he didn’t want to go back.

      Like

      • I would agree with your dad. It feels better. I meet so many people who claim that they cannot quit smoking, but I think it is all about if you’re really willing to do it. If you want to quit it, you can quit it, if you don’t want to, it won’t happen. Everything else is just an excuse.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. loisajay says:

    I love the photos with the slatted windows opened. They wrap the barns in plastic to dry the tobacco? I love that idea and yet it amazes me that there is not a ‘more modern’ way to do that. Great photos. Shame about the For Sale signs on some properties, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I’m not sure exactly why they wrap them, Lois, but I’ve noticed them doing that for several years. Not always, so I guess it depends on the humidity in the air and how dry the tobacco is. I know that for the wrapper leaves, the cigar manufacturers are very selective, so these guys work hard to get the leaves cured perfectly. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. bikerchick57 says:

    Great images, Dan. I especially love your attempt to capture the scale of Barn #7. When I think of New England, tobacco never comes to mind and, yet, it’s been around for many years. Thanks for the bit of Connecticut tobacco and shade farming history. It’s always sad to watch something that’s been around forever go away, especially if it effects the community. Hopefully, with changes in the tobacco industry, people will keep their jobs or be afforded an opportunity at something new.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Mary. The other big problem for the farmers is labor. No one wants to do this work. It’s hot and dirty under that shade cloth. As long as I’ve been here, they bring migrant workers from Haiti and Jamaica to do the work.

      Some of the farms have switched to growing landscape bushes and shrubs. In fact, tobacco has slipped to 3rd place in agricultural exports, behind those shrubs. Other farms have been sold to developers who have build massive industrial parks, most recently for warehouses for Walgreens, Dollar Stores and Amazon. I guess those are better jobs, but the warehouses are highly automated, so I’m not sure how many jobs are there.

      It’s more complicated than I wish it had to be.

      Liked by 1 person

      • bikerchick57 says:

        I didn’t realize this was a job done by migrant workers, but I suppose it’s the same as some of the farm fields here. No one else is willing to work under hit and dirty conditions for a low wage.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dan Antion says:

          The farms around us have fairly large dormitories. When my wife was growing up, tobacco was the go-to summer job for kids in high school. A couple of our friends had kids who worked tobacco, but fewer and fewer every year. Most of them weren’t reliable, and when the leaves have to start being picked, they don’t have much time to waste, so the farmers need people they can count on.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Norm 2.0 says:

    Before you mentioned the aroma I was already wondering how reclaimed tobacco barn wood would smell. It might make for some wonderful rustic and aromatic furniture for a country cottage. Or it might just stink to high you-know-what after a while :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      That’s an interesting thought, Norm. Many of the barns have succumbed to fire, accidental and arson. Some have been sold, taken apart and relocated and some are simply rented out to other farmers. I haven’t seen any being parted out, but I would certainly give a look if they were.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great images and history! I loved the old weathered barn with the slats open, and the red barn with the Moon. Great images!

    My Dad would occasionally smoke a pipe when I was growing up and the tobacco blends he smoked smelled so good. I rarely see anyone, anywhere smoking a pipe anymore, or cigars.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. joey says:

    Gorgeous barns! Barn seven is really, really long, and I appreciate you trying to capture its scale! Great colors in the shot from the road, too — must have been a pretty day. Interesting agricultural aspect I know nothing about, good to know before there’s nothing to know, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Handsome and New England history at its finest. Here’s hoping there are many more years of tobacco farming in CT and that it doesn’t go the way of the dairy farms in NH. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Judy. Sometimes they switch to growing shrubs. Sometimes they turn them over to developers :(

      One of the fields is going for development. The other 3-4 seem to be staying cultivated with something. I hope, ax you do, that we keep fond farm land.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ruth says:

    Lovely pics, and lots to learn about, as ever – I’ve never seem tobacco grown, so I found it all really interesting :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wendy Brydge says:

    There’s just something quaint and charming about old red barn doors, isn’t there? So much character!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Don says:

    Dan, I was intrigued by those two traffic lights in one of your images. I think it was the way they were mounted.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. BeckyB says:

    Incredible barns . . . . clearly tobacco was and still is big business. Great doors too :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. cwaugh212 says:

    Great post, Dan. As a former Connecticut resident, this struck a real bell. Beautiful photos and great story.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. marianallen says:

    I had an uncle who grew tobacco, but it was broadleaf. I never noticed slats in his tobacco barn, but I wasn’t all that interested at the time. All I was interested in was getting the hell out of the country and back to the city, where I lived and belonged. Now, I would be all about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It is amazing how certain processes come to be. Imagine trying to figure out hinged slats on a barn. Good post, Dan

    Liked by 1 person

  18. GP Cox says:

    I saw a tobacco auction one time, the first auction I ever attended. But, since I gave up smoking about a year ago, I won’t have any reason to again. [boy – I’d love a smoke right about now :) ]

    Liked by 1 person

  19. jesh stg says:

    Tobacco farm is a new thing for me. (So that means that all the tobacco and cigarettes in Holland must be imported). The looong building is impressive! I wonder if in recent decades with the emphasis on health the tobacco business has suffered…

    Liked by 1 person

  20. C.E.Robinson says:

    Dan, thanks for this interesting post. I never saw a tobacco barn in CT when I lived there! Still love your tobacco farm sunset photo that was featured on my blog site. 💛 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Christine. These barns are about 1/4 mile east for the door in that sunset photo. Still, I think the proximity of the shade cloth helped make that photo what it was, and I may never get the chance to see that again :(

      Like

  21. jolynnpowers says:

    learned some much from this post… we have barns here near me but not tobacco barns!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks JoLynn. I’m glad you enjoyed this. These barns are unique. I was so happy to get pictures with the slats open. In the past, they would be open a little bit on certain days. This year was so hot, the slats were open for day after day for weeks, this summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I love that misty image of the shed, behind the shade. Did you snap that one at 6 am just before the black SUV appeared on the scene, Dan? :)

    Liked by 1 person

  23. The farm girl in me loves these photos. Barns are truly an American treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. dweezer19 says:

    Wow. I think that would be something awesome to see! I love barns anyway and this would be so unique to see. I love the photos and history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks. I have pictures of the shade cloth. If they don’t put any up next year, I may have to find a way to work it in. If you chase know on Facebook, I did a photo series calls “Seasons of Shade”

      Like

  25. dweezer19 says:

    I would love to see those photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Dan Hen says:

    I have never associated tobacco with Connecticut . Learn something new every day ! Thanks for the great photos .

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Jay Colby says:

    Interesting post thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Joanne Sisco says:

    Great post, Dan. I knew nothing about the tobacco industry, including the growing and curing process. I didn’t understand what you meant about slats in the walls being opened for ventilation until you included some photos. Very interesting! Glad the Tobacco Secret Service didn’t confiscate your photos ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Joanne. All the photos were taken from public land, or a neighboring business that doesn’t seem to mind. The slats are really interesting to see open. When you drive by, sometimes, you catch that aroma.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Nato says:

    Interesting! I thought I had seen a lot of barns growing up in corn area of Ohio. However, I have never seen open slats like that. I would have driven by thinking that the barn was a transformer about to convert. Phew! Good to know so I don’t freak out, lol. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Paul says:

    Great shots here, Dan, especially the one with the fog. Interesting to see just how much they could open up those tobacco barns.

    Liked by 1 person

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