Fuquay-Varina returns to its tobacco roots

aramos@newsobserver.comNovember 25, 2013 

  • If you go

    The free Fuquay-Varina Museums Complex is at 131 S Fuquay Ave., Fuquay-Varina. For more information, visit www.fuquay-varina-museums.org.

— Tobacco farms no longer dominate the landscape.

But on Saturday, about 25 volunteers came together for a tradition that used to be just as common: a barn raising.

Just as in the early 1900s, neighbors piled and stocked logs.

This time, however, the barn won’t be used to cure tobacco; it instead will serve as a demonstration area to teach children and visitors about the “gold leaf” at the Fuquay-Varina Museums Complex.

Tobacco was a big industry in Fuquay-Varina, with five warehouses, a cotton buyer and 15 stores by the end of the 1920s, according to town reports.

While longtime residents can recall how crops were harvested, few newcomers understand the process, said Shirley Simmons, director of the Fuquay-Varina Museum.

The 100-year-old tobacco barn was relocated from the Greensboro area and rebuilt log by log. Volunteers still need to put in the filling between the logs and install a furnace.

Simmons is also putting together interpretive signs and demonstrations to show how tobacco was harvested.

The barn likely will be ready for public tours next year, she said.

Museum board member Max Ashworth, 78, worked three summers as a teenager on a tobacco farm in Fuquay-Varina.

He pulled a sled full of the freshly picked leaves from the field to the barn and handed them to “loopers,” who tied up bundles to be hung in “rooms” inside the barns. Rooms actually were hanging racks.

Workers then would set a fire to allow the tobacco leaves to cure. The process would take about five to six days. Someone was assigned to keep the fire going overnight, Ashworth said.

After the tobacco cured, the barn was emptied, tobacco was picked off the sticks by hand and graded as to the quality of the leaves, then packaged for market.

The barn itself was readied for a new batch from the field, and the cycle would start again, Ashworth said.

Ashworth has a personal tie to the land where the barn is located. His family home used to rest on the property, about 300 feet away.

Not everyone who worked on the tobacco farms got paid in cash.

“If you helped, your reward was an RC Cola and Moonpie,” said Charles McLaurin, who grew up in the area and helped tie tobacco to get it ready for market.

During Saturday’s barn raising, volunteers didn’t get any RC Cola, but they were treated to brownies, hot dogs and chips.

The tobacco barn is part of the museum complex’s master plan. The free campus already includes the old Ballentine Schoolhouse, Fuquay Springs Post Office and Centennial museum, playground and log playhouse. The museum is the old town hall building and has a jail open for tours.

In the future, the Friends of the Museums would like to add a train depot and caboose, Simmons said.


Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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