Clarksville, TN – The Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council and College of Arts & Letters at Austin Peay State University (ASPU) are partnering to offer a series of programs on Montgomery County’s history with tobacco.
Hailed as the “Dark-fired Tobacco Capital of the World,” Clarksville owes its growth and emergence as a vital manufacturing city to the plant that came over the mountains from Virginia and North Carolina.
This series will not glorify smoking. Organizers acknowledge the dangers cigarettes offer smokers. According to the Centers for Disease Control website, it remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths.
The programs will look, however, at how the plant has added so much to Clarksville’s economy that members of Trinity Episcopal Church included an image of a tobacco plant in their stained-glass windows. The Customs House was originally constructed as a Federal Post Office and Customs House to handle the large volume of foreign mail created by the city’s international trade in tobacco. Tobacco money has put many a Clarksvillian through college, graduate programs and law and medical school.
Carolyn Ferrell, a fourth-generation Clarksvillian and author of ten books on Clarksville’s history, will kick off the series on Monday, February 13th at 4:00pm at the APSU Trahern Theatre, with an in-depth look at “The Importance of Tobacco on Clarksville’s Development.”
Ferrell will introduce those engaged in the tobacco trade, including the foreign businessmen who gave Clarksville its “cosmopolitan feel.” She will also explain the uses of some of the many tobacco artifacts she has collected over the years.
On Tuesday, February 28th, at 4:00pm, Juilliard-trained writer, actor, director and teacher, David Alford, will present “Smoke: Abridged,” a condensed version of his popular play, “Smoke: A Ballad of the Night Riders,” which played to sold-out audiences this fall during the Bell Witch Festival in Adams. Alford will perform a one-man singer-songwriter-storytelling version of his bluegrass-inspired musical.
This performance will be in the APSU Trahern Theatre. It is free, but seating is limited and audience members must make reservations through Eventbrite.
“Smoke” tells the story of the early 19th century tobacco wars through the story of one fictional family. On March 28th, professional storyteller, Dr. Rick Gregory, will follow up telling the equally dramatic events of “War in the Tobacco Black Patch.” In the first decade of the 20th century, tobacco farmers in the Black Patch rose in rebellion against the American Tobacco Company, setting in motion one of the most violent eras in U.S. history from the Civil War until the Civil Rights movement.
The next month on April 25th, Austin Peay State University Professor of English, Dr. Linda Crenshaw, will discuss “Tobacco Tales: How Tobacco Appears in the Works of Local Writers.” Dr. Crenshaw will investigate how tobacco and the culture of tobacco farming appear in some of the literature produced by local writers, most notably Robert Penn Warren and Thomas Mabry.
The next program will move to the Woodlawn farm of Lee and Doris Fairrow. Lee Fairrow successfully achieved his goal to produce 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 will be able to view as they listen to a panel of long-time tobacco growers tell their stories of growing and marketing crop in Montgomery County. This program will start on Tuesday, May 30th at 4:00pm.
This series of programs is free and open to the public. Most will take place at 4:00pm in the Austin Peay State University Trahern Building. Parking is directly across the street.
The collaboration between the council and the college provides Austin Peay faculty and students with opportunities to interact with the Clarksville community and learn more about the area’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 State University 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.