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Tobacco Talks: Area growers to recount joys, hardships of tobacco farming

(Posted on Thursday, May 11, 2023)

By Dr. Ellen Kanervo, Executive Director, Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council

Lee Fairrow.CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - The fifth in a series of Tobacco Talks sponsored by the Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council and the College of Arts & Letters at Austin Peay State University is moving to more recent history and will discuss the experiences of contemporary Black Patch tobacco growers, who collectively offer nearly 250 years of tobacco farming knowledge. 

The first four Tobacco Talks explored how Clarksville became the "Dark-fired Tobacco Capital of the World." They examined tobacco's influence on city growth, the dark period of the early 20th century Black Patch Wars and how local authors Robert Penn Warren and Tom Mabry used tobacco to inspire their plot development. 

The next program is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 30 at Fairrow Farm, located at 3195 Lake Road in Woodlawn, Tennessee and owned by Lee and Doris Fairrow. The public is welcome to join the free program and can bring a lawn chair to sit back and enjoy the discussion. 

Five panelists will recount the personal importance of tobacco growing, which has put many of their family members through college, graduate programs and law and medical school. 

Lee Fairrow successfully achieved his goal of producing beautiful, high-quality tobacco plants during his 63 years of farming. Along the way, the Fairrows collected an excellent array of tobacco artifacts, which participants can view as they listen to the panel of long-time tobacco growers tell their stories of growing and marketing the crop in Montgomery County.  

Joining Farrow on the panel are: John Head, who grew tobacco for 49 years before retiring to less demanding farm projects; Tony Eldridge, who, with his dad, Hoover Eldridge, 94, can claim more than 100 years of shepherding tobacco crops to market; Rick Gregory, who grew up in a tobacco growing family and worked with the crop as a young boy through his early adult years; and Cleo Hogan, whose Century Farm has a long history with tobacco growing.   

The collaboration between the Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council and the College of Arts and Letters provides Austin Peay faculty and students with opportunities to interact with the community and learn more about Clarksville’s history and heritage. The scheduled activities touch upon each department in the arts and humanities and help to strengthen the "town and gown" relationship between Austin Peay and the Clarksville community. 

The series is sponsored in part by the Tennessee Arts Commission and by federal award number SLFRP5534 awarded to the State of Tennessee by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.