Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Tobacco Farming in Lindley,N.Y.
Tobacco Farming and Tobacco Barns in Lindley, New York
by Catherine M. Pierce
Fall 2007-Winter 2008
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Tobacco Farming and Tobacco Barns
in Lindley, New York
1864 to 1949
Catherine M. Pierce
(Numbers at end of sentences refer to the bibliography.)
The Guidelines for the Local Historian published by the New York State
Department of Education states “The Local Government Historian is both
an advocate for historic preservation and a resource to his or her
appointing authority on questions relating to history and
preservation—to identify historic structures and districts.”10 As I read
this after being appointed Lindley Historian in 2000, I thought of all
the buildings –especially the barns and tobacco barns that were quickly
becoming extinct in our community. Therefore, in the Spring of 2001, I
started photographing the tobacco barns and older homes. When I do
presentations to groups such as the Boy Scouts, I use these photos to
illustrate the places important to our history and heritage.
For about 80 years from 1864 to 1948/49, tobacco was a major crop in the
farming business of the river valleys in the Lindley area. As stated in
the Chemung County Journal June 2003, 3 “Tobacco Was King.” In the same
issue, there is an article, “Goodbye to an Icon–Tobacco Barns”. Although
written about the tobacco farming in neighboring Chemung County, the
information is related Lindley tobacco farming. It is interesting to note
that a tobacco leaf is part of the town of Big Flats logo.3 In order to
keep this report brief, I am eliminating the process of growing tobacco
which was labor intensive and involved most members of the family from the
spring planting until it was shipped to a customer in the late fall or
early spring of the next year.
However, a brief history seems in order. In 1850, a Connecticut farmer
moved to Big Flats, New York bringing with him tobacco seed from the
Connecticut River Valley. Observing his success with the crop, other
farmers in the area started growing tobacco as a “cash crop” on the
fertile river soils. Most of a farmer’s crops at that time were returned
back into the farm production. However, tobacco growing afforded the
farmer a means of selling a crop to pay his taxes and to acquire a cash
flow. Most farms raised between 2 to 10 acres locally (1880 census). Some
farmers had plantations, growing 40 to 50 acres at a season. 3 These were
exceptions. An acre could produce 1200/1500 pounds. Prices varied over the
years, ranging from 31/2 cents to 33 cents per pound. 8 Easy to see why
farmers were tempted to engage in the strenuous job of growing tobacco.
A demand for tobacco was generated by the Civil War. Most of the tobacco
grown in this area was used to manufacture cigars. By 1868, this had
become a successful business enterprise. Cigar factories were located in
Corning, Elmira, Big Flats, and even our Pennsylvania neighbor
Lawrenceville. 3 13 Railroads were used to transport the crops to the
factories and warehouses which provided employment for large numbers of
people. The need for tobacco began to decline during WW I when cigarettes
were introduced to the soldiers. In 1933, Congress enacted a law setting
quotas for crops —including tobacco 3. Locally, the last straw came during
WWII, when it was difficult to obtain labor19. A few Lindley farmers did
continue to raise tobacco. In 1948, Earl Stermer who had raised a tobacco
crop and another local farmer—my father—Clarence Brant (who had been born
and raised on a tobacco growing farm in Big Flats) took the last load of
tobacco to the nearest market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. To them, it was
the end of an era.
From about 1864 to the 1940’s, tobacco barns were found on most of the
farms on the East and West banks of the Tioga River in Lindley. The
Steuben County Directory of 1868/69 16 shows 5000 pounds of tobacco grown
in Lindley in 1864. The 1874/5- census lists 1 tobacco grower with 11,000
pounds produced for the 2 years and a second with 3000 pounds. M.F.
Roberts in his Historical Gazetter of Steuben County (First Part) 1891 12
states “ Presho (known previously as Erwin Centre, a Town of Lindley
hamlet) “formerly was a great lumbering point but now is the center of a
great extensive tobacco growing and farming district.)” In his directory,
12 he names 20 farmers as tobacco growers. A catalog New York State and
Northern Pennsylvania Leaf Tobacco Directory11 (about 1900) names 26
farmers as growing tobacco in Lindley. (I am able to determine a possible
date for this because my great grandfather and great uncle who were
tobacco farmers in Big Flats are listed with their acreage.) The New York
State Office of National Statistcal Services quoted a figure of 361 acres
for Steuben County in 1917 and a production of 365,776 pounds.
Electronic-mail on 8/13/06 from Glenn Bronson who lived in Lindley in the
1930’s-1940’s, recalls at least 18 tobacco farmers and each of them had at
least one tobacco barn. I quote these figures to show the extent of
tobacco growing in the Lindley area. Not only had the demand for tobacco
declined by the 1940’s but the number of large farms had, also, decreased.
A May 22, 1970, Sunday Telegram article on Lindley lists only 11 large
farms.19 Today, most of these are no longer in operation. Many of the
tobacco barns have met their demise from windstorms, floods, and disrepair
or being dismantled and used for other purposes. There are only 4 still
standing in the town as of this date. Sad! Data was difficult to obtain
because apparently, after the 1880 census, crop production was not always
In order to compile this report, I attempted to document information about
tobacco barns—especially the one located on the Elmer/Young farm recently
purchased by a Mr. Hawbaker for a proposed gravel pit. I checked various
sources and made calls in relation to this. According to the Agricultural
Report for the 1880 Census, a tobacco barn was usually 24x80 or 28x100
feet.and 20-24 foot high with tiers five foot apart for storing the
tobacco. The average cost was $200 to 300. The barns had horizontal or
vertical side vents for ventilation. Some had roof vents. Eric Sloan’s
book, American Barns and Covered Bridges,14 indicates the vertical
ventilators were New England origin. The Big Flats barns have vertical
ventilators while Lindley barns have the horizontal type. Other books
describe a Lancaster type barn.7
As near as I can determine, the tobacco barn on Elmer/Young/Hawbaker
property would probably have been built about 1868/70 when the demand for
cigar tobacco was the greatest. The Chemung Journal3 article states “
tobacco barns multiplied during this period.” At one time, there were 200
tobacco barns in Big Flats alone. Today, it is difficult to find 6 to 8
and generally, they are in poor condition.3
Unfortunately, there seem to be few records showing how much tobacco was
produced on the Elmer/Young farm. The Steuben County Co-Operative
Extension does not this information available. However, a former resident,
Durland Weale who grew up in Lindley in the 1930’s states that entire
“flats” in that area were full of tobacco plants.
This barn involved in this report measures 32 x’s 128 feet with the
horizontal venting system.21 It still has the ‘stripping room”-a vital
building needed for the processing of tobacco. From my observations, this
is the only stripping room remaining locally. The 1880 Agricultural Census
Report states “a 28x 80 barn with 24 feet posts and five tiers would house
4 acres of 6000 plants-indicating that at least 4 acres were under tobacco
cultivation at some time on the Elmer/Young farm. A well-built barn of
these dimensions with a stripping shed would have cost approximately
$600(1880 census report).
The 1900 census shows Fred Elmer and his parents living on the farm. In a
1940 Farm Directory, Fred is still there and has switched to a dairy and
poultry farm. Mr. Weale told me that in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, Mr.
Elmer, an elderly gentleman sold the farm to the Young family and moved to
Addison. The Young family had one of the largest dairy farms in the town.
The former Elmer farm provided additional land for their dairy cattle and
beef farming until they sold it to Mr. Hawbaker recently.
About the same time that tobacco growing began in Lindley, the National
Grange was organizing and building their meeting places. The Steuben
County Historian’s office recently requested photos of the old Lindley
Grange Hall. The County Historian expressed concern because like the
tobacco barns, these buildings are gradually disappearing. As historians,
it is our duty to identify and to preserve as much history as we can about
As a person going into her 77th year this fall and who grew up on a farm,
one of the hardest things that I experience is watching the decline of
farming and of the farm buildings in this region. Someone made the comment
that “once these buildings are gone—they are gone for good.” To me,
tobacco growing and tobacco barns are a part of our history and heritage
that future generations will not know or appreciate unless we take steps
now to preserve them
Catherine M. Pierce
Town of Lindley Historian
August 23, 2006
1. Personal Interviews with Carl Albers Co-operative Extension Bath,NY,
Glenn Bronson (E-mail), Marian Connelly, Richard E. Pierce, Sally Stermer,
Elaine Toby and Durland Weale.
2. Census Records, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1874/5, 1880 Agricultural Census
Report, 1900, 1910, 1920
3. Chemung County Historical Journal June 2003, Chemung Co. Historical
Society , Elmira,NY
4. Cigars and Cigar Boxes—1880-1920, Chemung Co. Hist. Soc.
5. Fink, Daniel, Barns of the Genessee Country 1790- 1915, James Brunner
Publ. 1987 Geneseo, N.Y
6. Hakes, Landmarks of Steuben County, 1896
7. Historical Agricultural Resources of Pennsylvania 1700-1960, River
Valleys Tobacco Culture 1870-1930
8.Lindley Heritage Days Committee, Looking Back 200 Years Lindley, NY
9. Munsell, History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania 1883 Chp. 8,
10. New York State Education Department Guidelines for the Local
Historian, http://www.nys.nysm.nysed.gov/ src.guidelineshtml 1/05/01
11. New York State and Northern Pennsylvania Leaf Tobacco Directory
(Published about 1900, copies at Steuben and Chemung Co. Hist. Societies)
12. Roberts, Millard F,. Historical Gazetteer of Steuben County, NY,
Syracuse, N.Y., 1891
13. Russell, Marian and Others, Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania 1831–2006,
Multi Media Corning NY
14. Rural Surveys, Rural Register of Steuben County 1940, Ithaca, N.Y.
15. Sloan, Eric, American Barns and Covered Bridges, Reprint of Funk,
Wagnall 1956 Dover Publ. Mineola ,N.Y.
16. Steuben County N.Y. Directory, 1868/69
17. Steuben County Directory, 1920
18. Stuart, William, Who’s Who –Steuben County , N.Y. 1935, Canisteo, N.Y.
19. Sunday Telegram May 22, 1970, Elmira, N.Y.
20. Wellsboro Agitator, Bradford Co. Tobacco Growers, Wellsboro, Penna.,
May 13, 1901
21. Wright, Ginny and Jerry, Elmer Tobacco Barn, Finger Lakes Chronicle V.
iv #3 May 1967, Corning, N.Y
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Lindley Tobacco Barns 2001
Unfortunately, only the Harris Tobacco Barn in this photo still exists- (2015)
Following the publication of this article ,the NYS Office of Parks. Recreation and Preservation sent a representative to study several of the local barns. At that time, the Albany office was unaware that tobacco had been raised locally.
The above article was published in the Crooked Lake Review -which was published by Bill and Martha Treichler of Hammondsport, NY. for a number of years. The Crooked Lake Review is no longer published, but the articles about local history can still be found on the Internet. An index of articles is available.
Since many local barns are meeting their demise, a 2015 project of the Lindley Historian's office will be to photograph and collect photos of Lindley barns. If someone has a photo that they would like to add to the collection, the Historian's Office has a scanner and will make a copy . Be sure to include your name and address so the original photo can be returned to you.