Monday, April 13, 2015

Wilson, World's Largest Bright-Leaf Tobacco Market, 1939

From North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State, published by the North Carolina Department of Concervation and Development in 1939, and available online at

Wilson, with a population of 12,613, is the largest bright-leaf tobacco market in the world and the seat of Wilson County. It was named for Col. Louis d. Wilson. The county, formed in 1855, was settled largely by Irish and English families who came from Virginia as early as 1790.

 Uptown, Nash is a narrow and bustling business street, but west of Pine Street it broadens into a mile-long, tree-shaded arcade3 through a section of comfortable homes surrounded by landscaped lawns and gardens. The industrial section has cotton and fertilizer factories, 10 stemmeries and redrying plants [related to processing tobacco], and eight tobacco warehouses, including sprawling Smith's Warehouse, called the world's largest.

 Tobacco, the State's first commercial crop, originally produced only for export, was packed in huge hogsheads and rolled through the woods to water-edge inspection houses where sailor-buyers broke open the casks for examination before bargaining. This gave rise to the warehouse auction system still used and the practice of terming it a "break" though the loose leaf method is now employed.

 When the graded tobacco "hands" are "in order," the farmer hauls them to market. The warehouses are one-story buildings with plenty of open floor space and numerous skylights to allow natural lighting, as tobacco is judged for color as well as for texture and aroma. Lots are piled in shallow baskets and arranged in rows down which pass the auctioneer and buyers. The procedure moves so swiftly that more than 300 lots are sold in an hour and 86,000,000 pounds have been sold in a season. However, a visitor may watch the sale without understanding a word of the auctioneer's patter and without hearing a single word spoken by a buyer, as a mere gesture or change of expression indicates a bid to the watchful seller.

 A tobacco festival and exposition are held annually in August.

 Wilson's manufactured products include cotton yarns, cottonseed meal and oil, fertilizers, bale covering, bus bodies, and wagons. The town maintains a radio broadcasting station, WGTM, 1310 kc.

 The Wilson County Courthouse, Nash and Goldsboro Streets, three stories and attic high, was built in 1924 in neoclassic design, replacing a building erected in 1855.

 Fronting on Whitehead and Lee Streets is the 12-acre campus of the Atlantic Christian College, incorporated in 1902, a coeducational institution with 350 students, operated by the North Carolina Christian Church. The buildings of brown brick are of various styles. The adjoining Jacksonville Farm was bought by the school in 1914.

 Natives of Wilson were Dempsey Bullock (1863-1928), local poet and historian, and Henry Groves Connor (1952-1924), Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and Federal district judge. Two son of Judge Connor attained prominence: George W. Connor, Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme court (1924-38), and Robert D.W. Connor, first U.S. Archivist (1934-  ). Josephus Daniels, wartime Secretary of the Navy and Ambassador to Mexico (1933-   ), lived in Wilson as a boy; his mother was postmistress of the town for years.

Wilson is at the junction of State 58 and US 264.

Between Wilson and the South Carolina Line US 301 swings along the edge of the fertile Piedmont Plateau. Forests of longleaf and shortleaf pine are sprinkled with oak, maple, ash, and gum. Shallow streams have worn sloping ravines in many places.

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