Friends of Smith Mountain Lake State Park
Monday, September 25, 2017
Smith Mountain Lake State Park Focuses on Area History and Culture 
 
Smith Mountain Lake State Park used Saturday, October 10, 2015 as the day to focus on the area history and culture.  There are three tobacco barns on park property dating back to the 19th century.  Similar tobacco barns can be seen in the surrounding counties, the most notable at Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County.  
 
Tim Sims, Chief Ranger at Booker T. Washington came to the State Park and provided an interpretive program discussing tobacco and its role as a significant “cash crop” in Virginia.  Attendees at the presentation learned that growing tobacco in the 19th century was very labor intensive.  Quality bottom land with rich soil had to be cleared of trees for planting and was only good for three years before depleted of nutrients requiring the clearing of a new planting site. The constant tending of plants to remove tobacco worms and suckers was also labor intensive.  Harvest and curing of tobacco leaves was physically demanding.  Hence, there was always a need for indentured servants and slaves. 
 
Sims, explained that when you see a tobacco barn, it was constructed there to be very close to the tobacco planting field.  It was important to have only a short distance to transport the harvested plants to the barn for curing so as to avoid bruising the leaves. The fire cured leaves produced from the small farms in the area would be taken to a warehouse for auction.  Sims said that tobacco was the most profitable crop at the time.  Farmers did not raise cattle because there was little demand for beef. 
 
Sims said the slaves had an interest in seeing their owner make a profit.  They would not share in the profits.  But if the owner did well, he would not have to sell one of the slaves, as they were a very valuable commodity.
 
Park visitors also got to take an hour long ride on the park’s new 30 foot long pontoon tour boat, donated by the Friends of the Park who also provides the Captains.  All three boat tours were full.  Park Interpreter Jet Lawler talked about the history of how the lake was created and the origin of the State Park.