Tobacco Barns Protection Project
Preservation Virginia has created the Tobacco Barn Protection Project to focus on tobacco barns— a quickly disappearing historic resource— and to raise awareness on the importance of tobacco farming and agricultural heritage in Virginia.
Tobacco barns are some of the last remaining tangible resources that reflect their importance to the region’s agricultural and tobacco farming heritage. Because of the abandonment and decay of many of these resources; Preservation Virginia is creating a multi-faceted project that will educate local students, document tobacco barns, and promote public awareness and preservation of these significant, unique, and too often disappearing heritage resources.
In 2009, the tobacco barns of Pittsylvania County were listed on Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Sites List. The interest that was received from the nomination was substantial and widespread and lead to a full tobacco barns project in the region which expectantly will help create and expand rural and agricultural heritage initiatives across the Commonwealth.
This project will be centered in the Dan River Region of Virginia. Halifax, Pittsylvania, and Caswell County, North Carolina were the heart of the “Bright Belt” where bright leaf tobacco was successfully established and grown. Danville became the largest market for bright leaf tobacco in the nation. As a consequence, the region has a rich tobacco heritage and retains a large number of tobacco barns that have never been fully researched.
Objectives and Goals
The objective of the Tobacco Barns Project is to raise awareness on rural heritage in Virginia —in all its forms and physical expressions—so that it can be protected, studied and celebrated. Rural, agricultural heritage is a part of Virginia’s history that has often been overlooked. Tobacco is the agricultural product that has played the largest role in defining Virginia’s economy, culture and landscape.
The project goals are as follows:
- To raise awareness on the importance of tobacco barns as they relate to the larger rural landscapes of Virginia;
- To educate the public and local students on the importance of local agricultural heritage by using tobacco barns as an educational tool;
- To ascertain the number, types and condition of barns in Pittsylvania County for further research and protection programs;
- To gather, compile and publish oral histories on local tobacco farming families;
- To establish a fund that can be used for barn stabilization and maintenance;
- To create a model that can be used in other regions of the state to raise awareness and help protect Virginia’s rural and agricultural heritage
Why is This Project Needed?
Promoting a More Inclusive Heritage
One aspect of heritage across the country and in Virginia— rural, agricultural heritage— has, in the past, often been overlooked while the history of the privileged became the heart of historical research and heritage protection measures.
This began to change during the 1960s as the significance of the history of all people began to be better understood. Women’s and ethnic history courses were established; the lives of people who had little or no written records gained a renewed appreciation through the archaeological research of material culture; and vernacular architecture began to be viewed as a respectful and valuable field of study.
“Interest in vernacular architecture or ‘ordinary’ architecture has grown rapidly and in diverse directions. Scholars and field professionals apply the term ‘vernacular architecture’ to a range of structures including traditional domestic and agricultural buildings, industrial and commercial structures, twentieth-century suburban houses, settlement patterns and cultural landscapes. The Vernacular Architecture Forum was formed in 1980 to encourage the study and preservation of these informative and valuable material resources. “ 
Educating Students on Local Heritage
The educational component of this project will utilize the concept of heritage education to help local students learn about how agriculture has is an important part of their local heritage by providing projects for Pittsylvania County’s Middle Schools and High School students that will support the History/Social Science and Arts Standards of Learning.
The purpose of heritage education is to protect and use local historic sites and buildings, rural landscapes, archaeological sites, artifacts, oral histories, photographs, cemeteries and other tangible historic resources, as a type of classroom.
Heritage education grew out of the nationwide historic preservation initiative when people began to realize the importance of the built environment, its ability to provide people with a sense of history and place, and its importance as a tangible link to our past.
Preservation Virginia has had great success working with two local High Schools- Galileo School and George Washington High School in implementing High School Preservation Clubs. These clubs are the first High School Historic Preservation Clubs in Virginia and possibly the nation. We hope to leverage the same sort of success that we have had with developing the Preservation Clubs in the high schools.
Increasing Community Involvement
Heritage awareness and education efforts have also proven to instill a greater sense of local identity and help to increase community involvement. It is anticipated that a project that focuses on a locally beloved rural heritage resource—tobacco barns— can bridge local ties, link community efforts to instill a greater sense of local identity and help increase community involvement while protecting the region’s rural and agricultural heritage.
During the workshops, local residents will be encouraged to bring images, stories and information on local tobacco heritage. At the consent of the residents, images and written materials will be scanned so they may be incorporated into the oral history project.
All aspects of the project will be shared by way of web pages that will be linked to Preservation Virginia’s website. As the project moves forward updates on the survey and the educational projects will be posted to these web pages. The web pages will also contain a link to an interactive map that the public can utilize to share their own images and stories about tobacco farming.
Improving Local Partnerships
Several local, state and national organizations have expressed interest and support of this project including Pittsylvania Historical Society, Danville Historical Society, Pittsylvania County Agricultural Development Office, Danville-Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, Bedford County Historical Society, Halifax County Historical Society, Caswell County (NC) Historical Society, Virginia Department of Historic Resources as well as the National Park Service HABS/HEAR Department and the Vernacular Architecture Forum.
Furthermore, numerous individuals have expressed interest and support and have volunteered their time and efforts for this project.