Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tobacco Road


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Even if one can't identify tobacco plants as they are growing, the long, low, louvered sheds used for drying the leaves are distinctive. The technology used to make Connecticut's fine cigar binders and wrappers has been much the same for 200 years. It is labor intensive, and as we photographed here, crews of laborers showed off the hatchets with which they cut the tobacco stalks. In order to make the best wrappers, for much of the season the plants must be covered by cloth tents which are removed for harvesting.

Native Americans were smoking tobacco when the first settlers arrived from Europe. By the 1630s the settlers were already making a profit exporting tobacco back to Europe. The soil and climate of the Connecticut River Valley proved to be perfect for growing the high quality leaves needed for the binders and wrappers. Tobacco has always been an engine of the river valley economy, and it has served as an entry point for waves of immigrants.

Even though the popularity of cigar smoking has fallen, Connecticut's tobacco industry remains a significant part of the state economy.