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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Statesboro's tobacco market becomes the state's largest
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Roger Allen

    (Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)

    By 1928, the first two tobacco warehouses had opened in Statesboro. They were the Holt-Cobb facility and the Farmer’s facility. Buyers came from the Imperial Export, R.J. Reynolds, Liggett and Meyers, J.P. Taylor, Chino-American and the P. Lorillard Companies.
    On the first day of the 1928 sales, 338,980 pounds of tobacco passed through the houses, selling for between 8 and 35 cents per pound. Dr. R.L. Cone’s crop was declared the best overall and sold for an average of 30 cents per pound.
    Over four weeks, area farmers sold more than 2.5 million pounds of tobacco for nearly $300,000. As a result of this success, the “Southern Tobacco Journal” wrote, “Statesboro is an alive and up-to-date city … and is located in one of if not the best tobacco sections in the State of Georgia.”
    In 1929, the Statesboro market prices (averaging at 18 cents per pound) topped every other Georgia market with the exception of Douglas. S. Edwin Groover of the First National Bank was appointed the chairman of the new Tobacco Board of Trade.
    Between the years of 1929 and 1932, an overproduction of tobacco, an infestation of “Blue Mold” and the start of the Great Depression caused Statesboro’s tobacco prices to fluctuate dramatically.
    In 1931, the average price for cotton was down to 6.2 cents a pound. To curtail the obvious overproduction of tobacco, the Kerr-Smith Tobacco Act was passed in 1934. Farmers were penalized if they didn’t limit their cotton acreage.
    Two new warehouses opened in Statesboro in 1935: J.G. Tillman’s facility on Holland’s lot and E.A. Smith’s facility in Brannens Park. In 1936, the allotment was raised to 2,319,424 pounds.
    All major tobacco buyers came, as did newcomers Venable, Dixie Leaf, L.B. Jenkins and W.T. Clark Tobacco. After the market closed, it was announced that 1936 was the best year yet: 3,629,528 pounds of tobacco sold for an average price of 18.7 cents per pound.
    Joe and Julian Tillman, Charlie Randolph and Lucius Anderson opened the new Bulloch Tobacco Warehouse just in time for the 1937 auction. Present were representatives from at least 23 tobacco companies.
    Gov. E.D. Rivers himself opened the 1938 tobacco auctions in Statesboro, praising Bulloch Countians for “their enterprise in developing tobacco.”
    Three more tobacco warehouses had opened up: one on Zetterower Avenue, operated by R.E. Sheppard and Aulbert Brannen; a brick warehouse built by Walter Aldred Jr. on South College Street; and another operated by Cecil Wooten and Norman Swain.
    By 1947, the Statesboro tobacco market was the largest in all of Georgia, and the Cobb & Foxhall Company was the biggest company operating in the Statesboro tobacco market.
    They built two warehouses in Statesboro and rented three more, two from Walter Aldred and one from Joe and Julian Tillman. However, the Sheppard and Brannen Warehouses were the largest in the city.
    In 1950, Statesboro was once again the top producing market in the state with 16.4 million pounds of tobacco being sold. Prices were some of the lowest overall because of poorer-quality Florida and South Carolina tobacco being sold at the Statesboro market.
    In 1953, Statesboro’s tobacco market was the northernmost market in the entire state. It was also the top producer, with 18.6 million pounds of tobacco passing through its warehouses.
    In 1954, two more warehouses opened up: the New Statesboro Warehouse building; and the Farmer’s Warehouse, operated by Guy Sutton. In 1959, Aulbert Brannen had built two more warehouses.
    By 1960, J.T. Sheppard, H.E. Akins and Hardin Sugg had opened the new Sheppard-Sugg Tobacco Warehouse, and Akins had acquired the controlling interest in the Cobb and Foxhall Company after both of the original owners died.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

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