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Old 06-01-2009, 11:05 AM   #1
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New Book on Tobacco Barns in Connecticut

Wrapped In History: Tobacco Sheds Are Reminders Of A Fertile Agricultural Heritage
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Tom Condon

I supposed if I'd ever done the hot and backbreaking work associated with them, I'd feel differently. Perhaps if I thought too long about the product they produce, I might have second thoughts. But those caveats aside, I have always been drawn to, intrigued by, fascinated with the tobacco sheds of the Connecticut Valley.

The simple rectangular barns with their distinctive venting systems are a unique architectural presence in much of the valley. They are both historic and contemporary. Groups of tobacco sheds "serve a utilitarian purpose but are also hauntingly beautiful. Their repetitive linear forms offer comfort to the eye."

That is from a new book "Tobacco Sheds of the Connecticut River Valley," by Darcy Purinton and Dale F. Cahill (Schiffer Books; see http://www.tobaccosheds.com). This is mostly a picture book with an accompanying narrative, and it's lovely.

...However, the growing disenchantment with tobacco products (I can't stand being around lit cigars), among other reasons, has eroded the farming presence. There were once more than 30,000 acres of Connecticut land in tobacco; now there is less than a tenth of that number. Former tobacco farms are lost to sprawl all the time. Barns were dismantled in the 1970s and 1980s because of demand for barn board; then when cigars made a comeback in the 1990s and farmers wanted to grow more tobacco, I've been told they were limited by the number of barns.

Some barns in the valley have been retained on residential or commercial property, creating some interesting architectural juxtapositions; some have been converted to housing or other uses.

Tobacco has been part of the fabric of central Connecticut for a long time. Generations of young people got their first jobs "working tobacco"(though now it's mostly adults). Many West Indians and Puerto Ricans, now among Hartford's major ethnic groups, first came to work the fields, as did others before them. What of the future? Will we continue to see the industry and its handsome barns in open fields in the valley?

Developers lust for the flat, well-drained, open land. If tobacco weren't a high-value crop, I suspect many more farms would have been turned into subdivisions. But the remaining farmers, some of whose families have been at it for generations, endure.
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