Tobacco museum gives guests farm tour and cigar-rolling demonstration
By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Tue., Aug. 28, 2012
From Portland, Conn., northward along the Connecticut River Valley and on to Massachusetts and the lower tip of Vermont, the soil and climate are ideal to produce one of the world’s largest and most popular cash crops - tobacco. Connecticut’s River Valley has a rich history of tobacco production, enough so that the farming, cultivating and selling of tobacco can be seen as a main identity of Connecticut during the early part of the 20th century. With an increased stigmatism surrounding tobacco-growing and smoking, one Windsor group is trying to promote the economic, political and social impact of the tobacco industry on the history of the area.
On Aug. 11 the Connecticut Valley Tobacco Historical Society hosted a "Tobacco Valley Tour and Barbeque" at Northwest Park, home to the John E. Luddy and Gordon S. Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum. The town-owned park consists of 473 acres of forests, fields and recreational areas, but prior to being a park it was a privately-owned tobacco farm that held more than 400 acres of homegrown tobacco. Windsor’s history in tobacco does not end there; the first shade tobacco tent in the United States was put up on River Street in 1900.
“Our goal is to bring an awareness to the importance that the tobacco industry had in Connecticut in the early part of the 20th century,” said Jay Jackman, museum curator. “We want to educate people on the immense amount of time and work these people put in to promote agriculture. There is no telling what the ramifications could have been like in this area without the tobacco industry [being] around in the early 1900s.”
The agro-tourism started off on Jarmoc Farms’ 160 acres in Enfield, as farm owner Steve Jarmoc showed the guests the lay of the land including fields being harvested as well as barns filled with tobacco curing, while also explaining the intricate process involved with growing tobacco. The process begins in April by planting seeds in a greenhouse, and then transplanting the seedlings into the fields by June. The seedlings will grow, and once the flower forms on the plant, they are topped, and the terminal bud is removed to allow upper leaves to grow larger and thicker. The two-month rotation carries on in August when the plants, at their largest size, are cut down, harvested and hung in barns to cure. October is when the tobacco is taken out of the shed and prepared for sale, which takes place in the winter months.
When the guests returned back to Northwest Park, there was a barbeque as well as raffle prizes of Scotch whiskey, cigars and cigar accessories. The guests were also treated to private tours of the museums at Northwest Park. The Luddy Museum is an existing tobacco curing barn remodeled to accommodate early and modern equipment used to grow and farm tobacco. The Taylor Museum is a year-round facility built to exhibit photographs, writings and other documents about the crop. The event ended with a hand cigar-rolling demonstration from the Boston Cigar Factory, with the guests each receiving a hand-rolled cigar.
“Connecticut has the best cigar wrappers in the world; nowhere else grows it like we do, and that should be celebrated,” Jackman said. “Overall it was a great event and we hope that it will continue to grow next year. We have a nice small-town museum here and it’s a hidden gem that teaches about what shaped our community.”
The Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum is located at 135 Lang Road and is open on Tuesday through Thursday, and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information about the Connecticut Valley Tobacco Historical Society or Museum, call 860-285-1888 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.