Closings and delays

North Carolina tobacco barns have rich history

DURHAM, N.C. -- For most kids growing up in North Carolina today, it would be hard to think of the state as anything but a banking and high-tech center.

But there was a time when tobacco dominated the state, essentially from Murphy to Manteo.

“It's such a huge part of life economically and it's also such a huge part of our life socially,” says Julia Rogers, one of the caretakers of the Duke Homestead in Durham.

Because tobacco farming touched millions of lives in the state, in one way or another, its remnants seem to have a sentimental place in our hearts – perhaps none more than the curing barns that sit beside hundreds of “tobacco roads” across the state.

“The tobacco barn is completely indicative of our switch to bright leaf tobacco,” points out Rogers. “What you have in the 200 years leading up to the mid-19th century is you have tobacco being farmed and cured in a different way.”

The bright leaf tobacco brought in far more money than other types and grew out of Americans trying to emulate the tobacco they saw coming from South America. The barns – typically made of pine or chestnut – were the result of needing tighter control of the temperatures in the barn that cured the leaves.

“What that's doing in the barn,” says Rogers, “is this controlling how you're heating it up, it's controlling your starches and your sugar which gives it that really sweet flavor. It is changing the proteins into amino acids which gives you that aroma and it locks in that yellow color.”

It was an arduous process but one that took North Carolina from subsistence farming to true wealth.

“Especially bright leaf,” Roger says. “If they were doing bright leaf, it was worth what they were putting into it.”

See the story of North Carolina tobacco barns in this edition of the Buckley Report.