The tobacco barn, a type of functionally classified barn found in the United States, was once an essential ingredient in the process of air-curing tobacco. In the 21st century they are fast disappearing from the American landscape in places where they were once ubiquitous. The barns have declined with the tobacco industry in general, and U.S. states such as Maryland actively discourage tobacco farming. When the American tobacco industry was at its height, tobacco barns were found everywhere the crop was grown. Tobacco barns were as unique as each area in which they were erected, and there is no one design that can be described as a tobacco barn.
The terminology "tobacco barn" has been used to describe myriad structures in the United States. Buildings used for strictly tobacco curing, buildings that have multiple agricultural uses, and dilapidated barns, among others, have all been called tobacco barns at one time or another.
Though tobacco barn designs varied greatly there were elements that were found in many American tobacco barns. Design elements which were common to American tobacco barns include: gabled roofs, frame construction, and some system of ventilation. The venting can appear in different incarnations but commonly hinges would be attached to some of the cladding boards, so that they could be opened. Often the venting system would be more elaborate, including a roof ventilation system. In addition, tobacco barns do cross over into other barn styles of their day. Some common types of barn designs integrated into tobacco barns include, English barns and bank barns.
The interior framing would be set up in bents up ten feet, but more often about four feet apart horizontally, so that laths with tobacco attached to them could be hung for drying. The tier poles were often supported by posts and cross beams, the space in between known as the "bents." The bents ranged in vertical spacing from 20 inches to five feet wide. The bent itself became an important earmarker in determining crop volume. Farmers would commonly refer to barn size in terms of bents and the rule of thumb was one bent will hang half an acre of tobacco.
U.S. states, such as Maryland, have sponsored programs which discourage the cultivation of tobacco. In 2001 Maryland's state-sponsored program offered cash payments as buyouts to tobacco farmers. A majority of the farmers took the buyout, and hundreds of historic tobacco barns were rendered instantly obsolete. As tobacco barns disappear, farmers have been forced to change their methods for curing the crop. In Kentucky, instead of curing tobacco attached to laths in vented tobacco barns as they once did, farmers are increasingly curing tobacco on "scaffolds" in the fields.
- Tobacco Barns of Southern Maryland, 11 Most Endangered Places, National Trust for Historic Preservation . Retrieved 10 February 2007.
- Hart, John Fraser; Mather, Eugene Cotton (September 1961), "The Character of Tobacco Barns and Their Role in the Tobacco Economy of the United States", Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 51 (3): 274–293, JSTOR.
- Tobacco Barn, Architecture and Landscapes of Agriculture: A Field Guide , Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved 10 February 2007.
- Stull, Donald D. Tobacco barns and chicken houses: Agricultural transformation in western Kentucky, Human Organization, Summer 2000. (via Find Articles). Retrieved 10 February 2007.