Recognizing the lack of programs to protect the state’s historic rural and agricultural heritage, Preservation Virginia launched the Tobacco Barns Preservation Program in 2012. The program was intended to raise awareness on Virginia’s rural heritage, specifically the tobacco heritage of Southside Virginia, by helping to protect its most iconic symbol: tobacco barns.
The program was designed with several components which included an architectural survey of tobacco barns, public workshops on barn repair, an oral history project to record stories of elderly tobacco farmers (available at https://www.youtube.com/user/PreservationVirginia), a poster contest (Save Our Barns So They are More Than a Memory) for local middle school students, and a grants project to provide funding to repair tobacco barns.
The target audience for this program was very inclusive and included students, farmers, the elderly, historic and social organizations, historians, museums, artists and anyone interested in protecting and learning about local rural heritage.The Tobacco Barns Project has generated a great deal of community support and interest and has helped instill a greater sense of local identity, something needed in this economically-depressed region of Southside Virginia. This support can be observed in the amount of public participation that has been shown for the project and in the increased amount of tobacco heritage-related news articles, art shows, museum displays, and other programs in the area since the tobacco barns project began. Because of the intrinsic inclusiveness of the project, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds have participated. The project has helped to demonstrate to demographics typically not involved in historic preservation that everyone’s heritage is important and worth saving.
One reviewer noted:
The success of the project can be judged by the notable interest of farmers who have attended programs and applied for assistance to stabilize and/or restore their tobacco barns. The recorded history relating to many barns is now a legacy for our future to be shared as the area attempts its first area-wide heritage tourism program.