Connecticut River Valley

A tobacco growing region that stretches north from Hartford, Connecticut, across the border into Massachusetts. Native Americans grew tobacco in Connecticut before the arrival of Europeans, and historians say locals have grown cigar tobacco there since the 1600s. The valley was the birthplace of shade tobacco circa 1900.

The soil around the valley is silty, with clay, sand and loam, the product of glaciers that scraped the northeastern part of America as they crept down from the Arctic. The first Connecticut tobacco was grown in the open sunlight, which makes a leaf thick and dark, with veins like ropes. The first variety grown was Connecticut broadleaf. In the late 1800s, Connecticut farmers were losing marketshare to a thin, beautiful leaf grown in Sumatra (part of modern-day Indonesia), so people tried to duplicate the product by planting Sumatra seeds in the Connecticut River Valley. The results were poor due to the bright sunny weather typical of a Connecticut summer, quite different from the overcast growing season in Sumatra. Farmers erected cheesecloth tents to cover the fields and shield the tobacco from the direct rays of the sun. "The first tents went up on River Road in the Poquonock section of Windsor in 1900," says Nielsen. The result was extraordinary: the leaves grew thin and supple, with barely noticeable veins. When cured and aged, the leaf turned golden brown and oily. Most experts say that was the origin of shade tobacco, which today is also grown in Cuba, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.