Tobacco growing and processing in Pocopson Township

Pocopson was reported to be one of the principal tobacco-growing townships in the county, with 150 acres devoted to that crop in 1884. Tobacco proved to be a profitable crop, with production growing from 2,400 pounds in 1869 to 600,000 pounds in 1889. The leaves of Chester County tobacco typically was used to stuff the center of cigars in the 19th century.
In 1881 Eusebius R. Barnard constructed a building on his farm in which tobacco could be dried. The shed was a typical bank barn style structure with an upstairs drying loft and a lower, partially exposed level used for processing and packing. The lumber for the timber frame was likely sawn at one of 4 saw mills located within the township at the time. The Barnards and neighboring farmers would harvest their tobacco and deliver the cut plants by teams of horses to the tobacco shed. The Douglass Tobacco Company used the Barnard's shed as the center from which they bought and packed the crops to be delivered to market.

The process for raising tobacco starts in March when seeds were planted in soil in wooden flats in greenhouses or cold frames. The seedlings were raised indoors until the ground temperature allowed for outdoor planting, typically in early June. The farmer would plow and prepare the field for planting and with the help of hand tools plant the seedlings in rows. The growing season for tobacco would last until late September when the mature plants would be ready for harvest. Workers would cut the plants at their base and spear wooden stakes, often called “tobacco sticks” through the stems. The cut plants would be left in the field for several days until the sun would aid in drying about 40% of the moisture out of the tobacco. Teams of horses were used to gather the cut tobacco and haul them on carts to the drying shed. A double door at one end of the shed would be opened allowing the horse drawn wagon to enter the shed. The team would halt to allow workers to install the cut tobacco onto long wood laths, called tier poles, that would be hung between the timber frame during the air drying process. The tier poles were set in multiple levels throughout the length of the shed. Once the carts were emptied, the teams of horses would exit the shed through a set of double doors on the opposite end of the building.

The process of drying tobacco in the Barnard's drying shed used the outside air to slowly evaporate the moisture out of the leaves. The plants would hang in the shed for about 6 to 8 weeks to completely cure. Moisture would naturally exit the plants and create humidity within the shed. To control the humidity in the building rows of wooden slats in the walls of the shed could be opened by the use of wooden levers. Each level of hanging tobacco would have its own series of horizontal slats. The slats would remain open during the day allowing dry air to flow through the interior of the building. The slats would be closed at night to keep the damp outside air out of the building. This process would repeat daily until the appropriate curing had taken place in the crop.

In the lower level of the shed there were two spaces used in the preparation and packing of the tobacco. The cured tobacco was taken from the tier poles and passed through hatches in the floor into the lower level. The damping process prepared the cured tobacco for the next stage by damping the leaves so that they would not fracture in subsequent processing. The prepared tobacco was passed through an interior doorway into a smaller space heated by a small stove. In this room workers would strip the stems out of the cut tobacco and press the leaves flat. The pressed leaves would be packed, weighed, and loaded onto carts to be taken by teams of horses to the railroad to be shipped to market in Philadelphia.

The stripping and packing process typically lasted from November to March. In March the seed planting process was started indoors and the cycle began again.

By the turn of the 20th century, tobacco farming in Pocopson Township was replaced by other crops such as corn, oats, wheat, and hay supporting the dairy farms of the area. Tobacco takes nutrients out of the soil and with years of production the fields saw reduced crop yields. With the competition of farms in Lancaster County and in the southern states, the labor intensive process of raising tobacco became less profitable in parts of Chester County.

The Barnard's tobacco shed was re-adapted for other farm uses in the 20th century. By 2020 the aging structure, long neglected was dismantled by Pocopson Township due to safety concerns.