Guest post: Michael Wayne
Around 2004 I was on a bicycle ride with friends rolling through the hills of north Florida in Gadsden County. I begin to take notice of several old barn structures similar in architecture throughout the rural countryside. On subsequent rides and visits in this area of north Florida and southern Georgia I began to learn about the Shade tobacco industry that was once a dominant business and lifestyle here.
This tobacco was a unique type used for cigar wrappers and was primarily grown in this small region of the South, partially in the Connecticut River valley and also in Sumatra, Indonesia.
The barns were built for curing and crop storage and over decades the Shade tobacco industry prospered in this area up until the 1970’s. For a number of reasons Shade tobacco is no longer grown in this region and all that remains of a vibrant agricultural community are the remaining tobacco barns and many memories.
I decided to take on a project of photographing all of the remaining Shade barns for a few reasons: I could not find any photographic record of how many of the barns are still remaining, and no one I talked to seemed to know. Many are crumbling due to the elements. If I could capture them in a photograph at least their image could be frozen in time. No one else seemed to be interested or crazy enough to traipse the rural back-roads of this region and talk with farmers and family members about the past. And because I have been a photographer since I was 7 and have always wanted to do a unique project.
In my visits with many locals I have concluded that at one time there were about 200 barns that were built and I estimate now there are probably less than 75 structures still standing or even recognizable. At my last count I have photographed 58 barns and there are still several on my list to visit.
Living about a day’s drive from this region makes my quest to finish the project slower than expected. But soon I’ll revisit and check a few more off the list. And I guess another reason I do it is a bit like the answer one
Shade farmer once told me when I asked about some of their difficulties:
After a while you sort of liked it, otherwise you wouldn’t have stayed doing it for so long.