In an effort to preserve the history of what was once the livelihood of many Kentuckians, four volunteers — Joy Bourne Morgan, Harold Malcomb, Frieda Smith, and Elizabeth Prewitt — came together to form the Tobacco Heritage Trail in 2009.
The trail consists of eight murals placed on barns alongside prominent roadways to depict the process of raising tobacco. To accompany the murals, the group worked tirelessly interviewing local farmers on each of the processes. The audio interviews can be found at visitowencountyky.org/barn-murals.
Sweet Owen Magazine continues its spotlight on the barn murals this month with “Tobacco Cultivation” and “Cutting and Housing.”
TOBACCO CULTIVATION is No. 3 in the production process and is presented in three panels. Plowing/cultivating was done with a horse-drawn plow in the early days and a tractor in more recent times. It is done when the plants are small, and fertilizer is added to stimulate growth. Chopping out tobacco shows a family chopping and removing the weeds. This job was dreaded by most children and adults. Topping tobacco was done by walking through the field and using your hands to remove the flowers from the top of each plant. The Hi-boy sprayer was driven through the field, and its long arms sprayed the tobacco with chemicals to prevent suckers from growing. Irrigation systems allowed farmers to pipe water to the fields during the hot, dry summer months. This mural is located about one mile on the left after turning onto KY 368 from U.S. Highway 127 near Monterey.
CUTTING AND HOUSING are No. 4 in the production process and is shown in five panels. Cutting and housing were done in August and early September. It was hard, hot, dry, dirty, and back-breaking work. Sticks were dropped in the field so the cutters could easily access them. The cutters would push a tobacco stick into the ground so it was standing vertically and place a sharp, metal spear on top of the stick. A tomahawk (a tool with a wooden handle and sharp blade) was used to cut the individual stalks of tobacco and spear them on the stick. Workers would pick up the sticks of tobacco, load them on a wagon and take them to the barn for housing. Workers would hang the tobacco sticks on the tiers in the barn, and the curing process would begin. This mural is located 2.9 miles from the junction of KY 227 and KY 36 in New Liberty.