Agricultural Outbuildings: Fire-cured Tobacco Barns

Although Kentucky is historically linked with tobacco production, the most familiar type is burley tobacco. The dark tobacco produced in parts of Western Kentucky and Tennessee is more like the tobacco grown in the state before the Civil War, and what was produced in Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Dark tobacco can be air-cured or fire-cured.
Though the growing season of dark tobacco differs little from that of burley, the resulting two months of fire-curing after the tobacco is housed bears no resemblance to air-cured tobacco. Once the tobacco is spiked or tied onto the tobacco stick and hung in the barn, the firing process begins. Rows or “runs” of lumber are laid out along the floor and covered with sawdust. The fire is started either before or after the sawdust applied, and is kept smoldering, producing the smoke that cures the tobacco leaf to its desired level of color and texture.
This particular method of curing resulted in a unique structure that appears little changed from its nineteenth century roots. Tall, gable-oriented structures, either rectangular or square, fire-cured tobacco barns are usually as twice as tall as they are wide. Unlike air-cured tobacco barns, these barns are tightly sheathed, with horizontal siding over vertical board boxing.
Openings are carefully placed to allow the proper amount of ventilation as well as the desired path of circulation through the barn. The windows are hinged, and fit snugly against their jambs. A monitor roof might be located on the ridgeline, working with vents near the bottom of the barn to draw air up and through the hanging tobacco. Doors are located on the gable end; either a single sliding door, or a hinged door (or doors) leading onto each cross aisle.