February 16, 2014

Connecticut by Barbara Edwards

Connecticut is a small state. It can be crossed from North to South or East to West in less than two hours but it holds four hundred years of history. Growing up in a tiny town with the stories of clockmakers Eli Terry and Seth Thomas, the Charter Oak, and church law, awoke in me a fascination with the past.

Connecticut is a beautiful state. A drive along Route 8 to Torrington is a joy in the spring when pink Mountain Laurel cloaks the rolling old mountains. The same drive in the winter with reveal glittering ice falls where springs trickle water over the rock faces. The sun will bring out fantastic green and blue streaks from the copper content. Then the fall foliage can contain so many colors it is blinding. The Long Island Sound provides a hundred places to stop and enjoy the salt water.

Recently my husband and I were driving though South Windsor Connecticut when I spotted tobacco drying in one of the old sheds and it reminded me of hot summers and cool autumns during my childhood.

If you don’t have a family member who smokes cigars, you’ve probably never heard of Connecticut Valley-grown broad leaf wrappers. When Cuba was famous for their hand-rolled cigars, the premium wrapper in the world was grown in Connecticut. When tobacco was imported from Virginia as a money crop, the Connecticut River valley with its thick top-soil and protection by the surrounding hills became a prime provider. Thousands of acres were devoted to tobacco.

Netting-shaded fields filled the farms.  I don’t know what they use now, but it was like a heavy cheese-cloth in my childhood. Wooden frames encircled every field and the white netting covered the plants. It kept the temperature steady and gave some protection from hailstorms.
Tobacco is a crop that draws its flavor from the soil. The same seeds have been planted in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rico and other sites further south. They produce a
useable leaf but it doesn’t have the distinct flavor of Connecticut leaf.

With the recent upsurge in cigar popularity, growers are opening the old fields.
During the 40s and 50s in the last weeks of high school, growers began recruiting boys and girls to work in the tobacco fields for the summer. Anyone who wanted a little spending money could earn it. The farms would send a bus to pick up the workers in the early morning and return them around four pm. 

This was in the days before itinerant farm workers and the guys were glad to do the hard job. They worked by the piece. A faster picker could bring home decent money. The bottom leaves were picked from the plants by sliding down the dirt rows on your knees. A mark on the picker’s arm somewhere near the elbow indicated the proper length of the leaf to be harvested. It was a filthy job and the teens often jumped into the river to cool off during lunch break.

The girls didn’t pick. They used a large needle threaded it through the stems to create bundles. These were then hung in the drying sheds. And the braver joined the boys in the river at noon.
At the end of the season tobacco auctions took place and buyers came from around the world.
Maybe the growing isn’t as romantic any more, but it is wonderful to see the rebirth of an industry.

Check out my holiday romance, Journey of the Magi, with a happy ending in Connecticut.
Noel is struggling to keep her promise to her children. A blizzard in Minnesota, a broken down car and lack of money halts their journey to a home in Connecticut. When the man of her dreams offers his help and love, can she resist? http://amzn.com/B00ES5DZEQ

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  1. Barbara,

    Connecticut is a lovely state. We have relatives in your state and so have visited numerous times. Loved the Shakespeare Theatre!

  2. Connecticut truly is beautiful. I used to visit friends at Stamford when I lived in New York. I remember the trees and the white steeples of the churches. Very interesting and for me, nostalgic blog.

  3. Hi Jacqueline,
    It has so much to offer, everyone should visit.

  4. Hi Barbara,
    I enjoyed your history lesson! I wouldn't have thought of Connecticut as a tobacco state. I have been in CT a couple of times, but would love to take a more leisurely tour of the state. Thanks for the post!

  5. Hi Margaret,
    I also have lovely memories of the Mountain Laurel blooming in the spring.

  6. Hi Annette,
    Thanks for the opportunity to share my views on my home state. It's a lovely place.

  7. What a wonderful bit of history for those of us who have never visited Connecticut. I had no idea of the influence tobacco had on industry. Enjoyed your post immensely.

  8. What wonderful pictures! I love those flowers and pumpkins!
    I wonder what all that tobacco smells like growing.

  9. Lovely journey through a lovely state. Living in Westchester County, NY and then NJ and having a son at college in Boston, I've made many a trip through CT along the coast on I 95 and up Rte. 680 to 90. Great restaurants, antiquing and sights to see.
    Lots of luck with a successful career as an author.

  10. Hi Amy,
    CT has a diverse history and I love learning more and more, and sharing.
    Do you know there is a small church with an original Eli Terry wooden gear clock in the bell tower?

  11. Never have been to Connecticut. It sounds like a very appealing place to visit. Maybe someday....

  12. Hello Monica,
    The growers tried to grow those famous leaves in a dozen different countries with no success. We do have great topsoil.

  13. I always thought tobacco was a southern crop. But we haven't done much camping out east, except for a brother's wedding in Vermont a few years ago. Maybe if we ever get to retire, we'll try to hit all of the states we've never been to. From what you say, Connecticut sounds like it has some beautiful hiking.

  14. I have lived in many states and now called Connecticut, not far from Route 8.

  15. Though I have not been to your state, my son has been through it. He said it's like Europe in one way; don't blink, you'll miss it. He loved it there. You book sounds fascinating and the knowledge of your state should lend an air of truth to the fiction.

  16. What an interesting post. When I lived in Boston we often drove to Hartford, CT, to visit friends. But I didn't know about the tobacco fields.

  17. I've been through CT many times. I live in a small state, Delaware, too, not really that far from you. CT is beautiful. I read Journey of the Magi and loved it. It's a beautiful Christmas story.

  18. Hi Monica,
    the industry is experiencing a rebirth. good for everyone.

  19. Hi Margo,
    since the plants are grown under netting, the area smells damp and musty.

  20. Hi Fran,
    Check out the Northwest corner for covered bridges, too

  21. Hi Margo,
    come for a visit, you can stay with us.

  22. Hi Fiona,
    we have a great section of the Appalachian trail.

  23. Hi Debby,
    I grew up near route eight. Love the drive north during the winter with the ice cascading down the cliffs

  24. Hi Barbara,

    I'm not sure I've ever been to Connecticut, but it sounds delightful. I enjoyed your story about the cigar wrappers very much.

    Best wishes for sales with Journey and your other titles!


  25. I never knew about tobacco growing in Conn. Love the pictures, Barb.


  26. thanks to all the commenters who visited and said such nice things.
    I appreciate each and every one of you and hope you're my friend on Facebook, tweet on twitter or any other place I'm at. You're all wonderful


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