Tobacco Growing in the Housatonic Valley

Before it was entirely dried the buyer came. Generally from New Milford, Mr. Sherman Green or Mr. William Richmond, but Mr. Reynolds of the Reynolds Tobacco Company has been in Kent, several times, to buy directly from the farmer. The buyers look over the quality of leaf and search for the pole burns or holes in the leaves from hail. The price varied according to the merits of the crop and was governed by something that is never mentioned these days; supply and demand. The price has been as low as five cents a pound and as high as forty cents a pound.

Now you wait for November or December to get a break in the weather to get a warm rain with accompanying fog. Then you work like crazy to take down the laths of tobacco, take the plants off the laths and pile them on the ground of the pole barn and cover them over with corn stalks and sacking to retain the moisture. Then the word goes out that you’re ready to strip the tobacco and break out the cider and your neighbors come and you strip the leaves from the stalk.

You strip all day and by lantern light at nigh while the leaves are damp. The leaves are packed in a wooden frame that is lined with very heavy paper made especially for this work. It is tied and when taken out of the frame it is a bale and all are uniform in size – 40 pounds in weight.

Next the tobacco goes to the sorting shop. Kent at one time had two shops. The white barn that stands in the farmyard of what was the Templeton farm used to stand at the curve of Rt. 341 at the end of Maple Street. It had one more story than it has now, made of brick. It has an elevator in it to lift the bales to the sorting room above and then to the top floor for storage. The other shop was across the tracks in the red building now owned by the Caseys.

The white shop was run by Luther Eaton and the red shop by Green and Soule of New Milford. The sorting shop is kept at high humidity and the leaves are now graded into wrappers, binders and fillers and bound into a bunch called a hand and each is then packed according to identity into bales such as were used in the stripping process. Then it is taken to the tobacco companies. The sorting shops provided winter work for a good many people in the town.

Tobacco was grown in the town of Kent and now I’m talking about Kent Hollow, Macedonia, Skiff Mountain, Segar Mountain, Geer Mountain and Fuller Mountain from the end of the Civil War until 1934. The crop survived World War I but by 1925 labor had shifted to the cities and without seasonal help, a tobacco crop is doomed. Tobacco is still grown in the Connecticut River Valley with migrant labor from Mexico, Puerto Rico and the southern states but no such system was ever contemplated for Kent.

To name the tobacco growers in Kent is to name most of the families of Kent. To start at the northern boundary of Kent, tobacco was grown by Chaffee, Lorch, Ramutin, Berry, Peet, Gawel, Naboring, Bacon, Luther Eaton, Charles Eaton, Templeton, Judd, George Newton, Angelovitch, Lee, Carlson, Fuller, Pratt, Tobin, Hopson, Stone, Howland, Brown, Jennings, Camp, Hawley, Green, Birkens, Burnett, Deveaux, Straight, Vincent, Chase and Benedict, Tanguay, Peter and John Casey for Hopsons.

by Caroline Templeton Manley for the Kent Historical Society, April 1970
facebook google+ youtube

Pages: 1 2