16040 River Road
A factory is the last thing one expects to encounter in the genteel countryside of Halifax Couty, Virginia, especially on River Road, once the main route between Halifax Courthouse and the regional tobacco market of Danville. It was a prestigious address for local planters during the flush years before the Civil War.
Among the gracious plantation houses, built in the popular styles of the day - Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival - a weather-beaten brick building sticks out like a sore thumb, more remarkable for its bulk than for any architectural pretension.
Here on the edge of the hopefully named but now mostly vanished hamlet of Brooklyn, the Hightower and Barksdale families employed slaves and later freemen in the manufacture of plug chewing tobacco during the mid-nineteenth century.
The two-story factory was constructed about 1855 for the planters Joshua Hightower and Beverly Barksdale, probably by the Halifax County builder Dabney Cosby.
Uncommonly large for its rural location, the factory originally produced only plug tobacco but later made tobacco for smoking and snuff.
The enterprise closed in the 1880's and has since been used for storage. The interior preserves various specialized workrooms and the remnants of original machinery.
The Brooklyn Tobacco Factory is not the rural anomaly it now seems. Plug tobacco manufacturing flourished in the Virginia countryside before the Civil War. In fact a majority of the states 252 tobacco factories listed in the 1860 federal census were located outside the principal tobacco cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Lynchburg and Danville. Most of these rural factories are clustered in the Dan River basin along the Virginia-North Carolina border, in the heart of the bright leaf tobacco belt. Today Antebellum tobacco factories have almost died out. The Brooklyn Tobacco Factory may be the best preserved example in the state, perhaps in the nation.
In 1994 Virginia "Ginger" Gentry acquired the long abandoned factory and she and her husband, Mack, set out saving it from further deterioration. To increase public appreciation for the building and to document its history, Mrs. Gentry hired J. Daniel Pezzoni, an architectural historian and preservation consultant based in Lexington, Virginia to prepare a National Register of Historical Places' nomination for the factory. On October 18, 1995, the Brooklyn Tobacco Factory was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and on January 22, 1996 the Brooklyn Tobacco Factory joined the ranks of the most significant historic properties in the nation.
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