The Tobacco Barn

History of the Quilt


Project Description

Evaluations of Accomplishments

Future Plans for the Project

Proposal Letter

Request to Commissioners

Biographies by Homemakers Clubs

Biographies by Friends of the Library

Story of the Quilt Square, "The Tobacco Barn," by Cape Fear Extension Homemakers Club for the Harnett County Historical Quilt, 1989

Tobacco barns, like the one on Harnett County's Historical Quilt, were places of much activity, social as well as work, during the tobacco barning season. The season, depending upon weather conditions, generally extends from mid July through mid October, and could vary every year.

Wit the introduction of the bulk barns in the 1980's and the use of propane gas in! place of wood for fuel, the early wooden barns have since been discarded for the new metal barns. Consequently, the wooden barns in a short span of time, have become dilapidated structures still standing, but empty in many instances, with only a few being used for storage, which is most unsatisfactory because of their dirt floor.

These early barns are great land marks; they symbolize a way of life (before the eighties) for the farmer, his family, his tenants, both black and white, his friends.

To harvest the county’s main cash crop in the heat of the summer, many hands were needed, those of the older, the younger, of men, 'women, and children. The process of curing tobacco was a crucial business, and !still is, from the time the leaves are pulled, put in a drag wagon, carried to the barn shelter for proper tying or looping on sticks (a yard long) to hang like fringe, to hoisting them on four to six tiers in the barn, all in preparation for eventual firing to pure the leaves.

After a week of "feeding" and watching the wood fire, while trying to attain 180 F for curing, the once green leaf finally becomes golden, the long awaited color that was desired.

Now the fire is no longer fed; the barn is allowed to cool; proper removal of sticks begins, the entire mass is moved to the packhouse for future grading. Later on, for sale, the beautiful golden leaves, that are finally graded, are taken to a market of the farmer's choice.

The barn depicted on Harnett's Historical Quilt Square represents the early barn, but does not indicate whether it's a log structure daubed with mud or one later built of board and batten, tin, or of any other material. Some barns were roofed with wooden shingles, some with tin. All had one or more smoke stacks atop the high roofs that would accommodate the four to six tiers of looped leaves. Regardless of the material of which they were built, all had one, two, or three sheds where leaf looping took place. Most barn sheds had "looping horses" on which the leaves were hung until they were placed in the barn. The barn had only one entrance door, and one or two bricked and cemented furnaces on the shed side to which long metal flues were connected that circled all sides of the barn, near the ground, with a smaller pipe (or pipes) as an offset from the flue that led to the roof for a chimney, or chimneys.

Small tree logs that were burned in the furnace(s) were kept burning until the proper temperature was reached and thus maintained for a length of time, until the golden color was produced. For checking the temperature, a thermometer was hung just inside the entrance door, or at the back of the barn, where it could be seen by lantern light during the course of the curing.

It took two people to place the horizontal sticks on the barn scaffolding, one to hand, and one to place on the top support, first, and on the bottom support last. One or more persons watched the fire for the seven days of curing, every hour of the seven days, and every hour of the seven nights. The "curer" was lucky if he could get a few winks of sleep at night while lying on a wooden bunk under the shed with a quilt or blanket spread over a log for a pillow. The ,curing went on, rain or sun, day and night.

Wood for the furnace was stacked near the barn, in four foot lengths, or in 25 foot logs, six feet high. To keep the fire "going", three or four pieces were used at a time.

In early evening there were always neighborhood visitors, often young boys who came to chat, shoot marbles or to play the "horse shoe" game. But as dark approached, they would depart, leaving only the tobacco "curer(s)" as the sole care taker(s) of one or more barns being fired.

Around midnight Sunday the fire was allowed to die down. Later on, about three a.m. Monday, a designated helper was awakened in a nearby house to hitch up a mule to a wagon and ride to the barn to assist the "curer" in a careful takedown of the cured tobacco, and a careful placing of it in the wagon. Because the mule would squirm while hitched, the mule was unhitched when the barn was reached, allowed to graze or wander during the fill up and rehitched when the wagon was loaded, until the entire lot was hauled to the packhouse. Meanwhile, the "curer" attempts his last opportunity for sleep.

Monday came quickly, and another curing would soon be started in the same pattern, week after week until all the crop was barned.

When the many weeks of hard labor were finished, the farmer and his helpers would celebrate the long looked for at the barn, with several big dinners, barbecues, watermelon cuttings, dances, and games.

Yes, they came, all ages, all who had a hand in harvesting the crop; the big sticky, hot ordeal! They knew now it was worth it!

Written by: Evelyn Byrd, Quilt Coordinator, January 1994

For: Cape Fear Extension Homemakers Club

Sources: Knowledge of locals who assisted in barning

"Sharecroppers: the way we really were"

by Roy G. Taylor

Quilt Square: Row 8, Number 44

Embroidered by: Ann Connell, member of Cape Fear Extension Homemakers Club