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Must-See RVA! — American Tobacco Company, South Richmond Complex

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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November 2019 — Stemmery & Re-Drying Plant
  • AKA, Tom Walker Warehouse Group
  • 400-800 Jefferson Davis Highway
  • Built, 1926-29 (Re-Drying Plant), 1936 (Stemmery), 1939 (Warehouses & Research Laboratory), 1947 (Boiler House & Garage), 1980s (Research Laboratory additions)
    November 2019 — Stemmery & Re-Drying Plant
  • VDHR 127-5832

A sprawling campus from the Golden Age of Cigarettes.

(Rarely Seen Richmond) — Tobacco Warehouse Scene

(Rarely Seen Richmond) — Tobacco Warehouse Scene

Throughout the nineteenth century, most tobacco processing occurred at a local scale, with independent producers maintaining their own supply of tobacco and process for marketing it. As tobacco production centralized near the end of the nineteenth century, producers became increasingly concerned with the need for quality control, in order to ensure that the taste sought by the consumer was at least somewhat consistent throughout a given brand’s production. This was the beginning of the concept known as the “blend;” the combination of tobaccos (and, later, fillers) used to reliably create a particular flavor profile for a given brand of tobacco products.

(iStock) — A tobacco warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, with barrels of tobacco lined up outside — Harper’s Weekly, Saturday, 5 April 1890

(iStock) — A tobacco warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, with barrels of tobacco lined up outside — Harper’s Weekly, Saturday, 5 April 1890

The advent of maintaining a consistent blend and increasing production speed brought about challenges for older production facilities, including those in Richmond mostly clustered in the Shockoe Valley area. Most of these facilities were multi-story, elevator-serviced warehouse buildings that could contain an adequate supply of tobacco on-hand to keep up with the older, slower, cigarette-manufacturing equipment.

(Evolving Cigarette) — Bonsack Machine, the first automated cigarette maker

(Evolving Cigarette) — Bonsack Machine, the first automated cigarette maker

However, as newer high-speed cigarette manufacturing machines increased in speed and efficiency, and proprietary blends required a much larger cache of tobacco, including multiple varieties and stages of aging to be on hand, cigarette manufacturers found that their facilities were incapable of holding enough supplies of processed tobacco to maintain production.

(VDHR) — Rail Cars at the Warehouse Loading Docks, Facing North, Circa 1930s

(VDHR) — Rail Cars at the Warehouse Loading Docks, Facing North, Circa 1930s

On October 27, 1910, the American Tobacco Company paid the Manchester Land and Manufacturing Company $25,000 for the 25-acre property bound by the A.C.L. Railroad and the Petersburg Pike. At the same time, arrangements were made with the railroad to allow for the construction of rail spurs off the mainline leading into the property. Construction was begun immediately of 14 new-design, tobacco storage warehouses. The warehouses were sited throughout the property to make the most efficient use of rail access, with spurs extending along a loading dock on one side of each row of warehouses.

(Digital Forsyth) — Hogsheads, Packed With Leaf Tobacco, In R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’S Storage Warehouse, 1956

(Digital Forsyth) — Hogsheads, Packed With Leaf Tobacco, In R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’S Storage Warehouse, 1956

It was stated by the company that the sheds would be “scattered over the large area of land in order to lessen the fire hazard and will consequently render the insurance rate lower than it would be if there were only large warehouse.” It was also said that the design of the storage sheds offered a more satisfactory method of keeping tobacco than the usual warehouse. The capacity of each shed was to be about 1,200 hogsheads allowing a total storage of around 31,000,000 pounds of tobacco.

November 2019 — Warehouse

November 2019 — Warehouse

The individual buildings were a single tall story in height, eliminating the need for elevators and the resulting extra personnel necessitated by all of the additional handling. Their enormous capacity and ease of access were the essential characteristics of their design. The 14 warehouses each enclosed roughly 14,000-square feet and were built in a grid of three rows throughout the property. The wood frame of each building was clad with galvanized iron siding with large louvers open on the bottom to permit circulation of air throughout the interior. The floors were elevated and consisted of soil covered by 4-6 inches of cinders, with concrete aisles.

November 2019 — Warehouse

November 2019 — Warehouse

In 1929, the American Tobacco Company embarked on a half-million dollar expansion program at the Chesterfield Warehouses in South Richmond to increase storage, and thereby, production capabilities of Lucky Strikes. The new buildings were built in the spaces between the existing 1911 buildings to make three continuous rows of warehouse space. New brick bulkhead walls were built at the ends of the existing buildings, to reinforce them, as well as provide better fire protection. The additional warehouses were stated to increase the overall storage capacity from 31,000,000 pounds of tobacco to 50,000,000, making it one of the largest storage plants in the South.

(Érudit) — Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada advertisement promoting tobacco research

(Érudit) — Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada advertisement promoting tobacco research

As of the construction in 1929, the new building also became the center of leaf research for the American Tobacco Company. Originally based in Brooklyn, New York, the research department of the company was founded in 1911 and included only a few scientists whose job was to study the tobacco leaf to better understand its physical properties and ensure quality control of the tobacco purchased and used by the company. When the research department was moved to Richmond in 1929, it at first consisted of just four chemists; however the department would grow dramatically over the following decade.

(VDHR) — American Tobacco Company Research Laboratory, Front Façade and North Side, Facing Southwest, 1939

(VDHR) — American Tobacco Company Research Laboratory, Front Façade and North Side, Facing Southwest, 1939

By this time, the complex was also now called the Tom Walker Warehouse Group, named after the manager of the facility, T.J. Walker of Richmond.

In 1938, the Tom Walker complex underwent yet another expansion, this time fueled by the growth and prominence of the research department based there. That year, the American Tobacco Company announced that the facility would be the site of a new, state-of-the-art laboratory for the company research department. American Tobacco Company Research Laboratory

(VDHR) — One of the tobacco analysis laboratories in the new research building of the American Tobacco Company, 1939

(VDHR) — One of the tobacco analysis laboratories in the new research building of the American Tobacco Company, 1939

The role of the research department in the success of the American Tobacco Company became so vital that in 1938, the company announced it would open a brand new, larger laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment and a great many more researchers. The new laboratory was to accommodate five highly specialized research divisions with roles including control operations of tobacco and original research; analysis of supplies used in all processes and in packaging; tests of the physical properties of processed tobacco and cigarettes; investigation of smoke and the operations having to do with the actual use of smoking tobacco; and biological research, including studies of the effects of smoking.

(VDHR) — Unidentified Researcher at the American Tobacco Company Research Laboratory, 1952

(VDHR) — Unidentified Researcher at the American Tobacco Company Research Laboratory, 1952

When completed in 1939, the new research laboratory was considered the most modern and fully equipped tobacco research laboratory in the nation with high-tech equipment and an extensive reference library on tobacco containing nearly 1,700 volumes, considered one of the largest such collections at the time. The laboratory maintained a fulltime staff of one director and assistant director, 29 chemists, 2 engineers, 1 bacteriologist, 1 librarian, 11 technical personnel, and 17 assorted other staff.

(VDHR) — Unidentified Researcher at the American Tobacco Company Research Laboratory, 1952

(VDHR) — Unidentified Researcher at the American Tobacco Company Research Laboratory, 1952

Research included the investigation of the chemical composition and physical nature of various types of tobacco, and the specific effect of manufacturing processes upon them; investigation of the chemical and physical nature of tobacco smoke; the correlation of composition of smoke with constituents of tobacco; investigation of the physiological significance of the constituents of the smoke of tobacco products; the development of methods for the scientific control of purchasing, processing, and blending tobaccos; and fabrication of tobacco products.

November 2019 — Research Laboratory

November 2019 — Research Laboratory

The new lab, as well as its staff, quickly became nationally recognized and awarded for their achievements. In 1941, both the director of the laboratory, Dr. H.H. Hanmer, and assistant director, Dr. W.R Harlan, were appointed as two of the seventeen Virginia scientists to serve as delegates to the Convention of the Alabama Academy of Science, an organization formed to stimulate scientific research in the American South while developing public interest in such work in order to create grants-in-aid for research studies.

(Flickr) — 1951 Old Gold Cigarettes Ad, with TV Announcer & Actor Dennis James

(Flickr) — 1951 Old Gold Cigarettes Ad, with TV Announcer & Actor Dennis James

However, by this time, the American public was becoming increasingly aware of the health hazards of smoking tobacco, brought to light by popular reports published by the American Cancer Society and Reader’s Digest. In 1951, the Lorillard Tobacco Company launched a national campaign claiming that a 1942 Consumer Reports article showed that their cigarette brand, Old Golds, was “lowest in nicotine and tars.” While this was technically true according to statistics included in the article, the point of the article had actually been that differences in tar and nicotine were insignificant when it came to the harmfulness of all cigarettes.

November 2019 — Stemmery & Re-Drying Plant

November 2019 — Stemmery & Re-Drying Plant

As opposed to advertising campaigns, such as that by Lorillard, that were more about bending the facts in others’ research efforts for their own benefit, other tobacco companies actually released their own counterargument articles. In 1952, the Liggett & Myers Company widely publicized the results of tests run by Arthur D. Little, Inc., showing that smoking their brand, Chesterfields, “would have no adverse effects on the throat, sinuses or affected organs.”

November 2019 — Stemmery

November 2019 — Stemmery

In 1953, executives from many of the large tobacco companies arranged a meeting in order to find a way to deal with recent scientific data pointing to the health hazards of cigarettes and plan a counterattack on these studies. The following year, these companies sponsored an industry-wide advertisement disputing evidence that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer.

November 2019 — looking southwest along Kern Street towards Re-drying Plant & Boiler House

November 2019 — looking southwest along Kern Street towards Re-drying Plant & Boiler House

In 1955, the American Tobacco Company responded through the completion of a massive expansion of the research laboratory at what was by then known as the South Richmond Complex. The expansion doubled the size of the 1939 building with additional laboratory and research space. The laboratory was expanded with specially-built and -designed equipment used to do chromatography, micro-organic analysis, electrophoresis, mass spectrometry, ultraviolet and infrared spectrophotometry, electronic titrimetry, extraction, refrigerated centrifuging, and low temperature vacuum fractionations. A new radiological laboratory was equipped to use soft radiation-omitting radioisotopes and other facilities included a pilot plant, photographic dark room, cold storage room, drying room, tobacco conditioning rooms, and a library.

November 2019 — Boiler House

November 2019 — Boiler House

Research continued on many of the same subject matters although with an increase in the biological nature of tobacco as it relates to health effects and ramifications. Studies were conducted on how nicotine is formed in the growth of the tobacco plants, the nature of pyrolysis products during the burning of a cigarette, and collection and formation of volatile constituents. One advancement made by the research department at this time was the development of the compound, activated charcoal filter, first used in the company’s Tareyton brand cigarette and the mentholated filter used in Montclair cigarettes.

November 2019 — Garage

November 2019 — Garage

American Tobacco Company was also the first to print tar and nicotine test results on the packages of Carlton brand cigarettes at this time. While these health-related studies were being undertaken in response to the growing national awareness of the hazards of smoking, the American Tobacco research laboratory also continued to conduct research aimed at improving cigarette flavor and composition to retain their existing customers as well.

(World Vector Logo)

(World Vector Logo)

In 1994, the American Tobacco Company was acquired by Brown & Williamson, the American arm of the British American Tobacco Company. In 2004, Brown & Williamson merged with the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. (VDHR)

… and then…

November 2019 — City of Richmond seat at the DPU Ops Center

November 2019 — City of Richmond seal at the DPU Ops Center

Of the original 25 acres, 14 were carved off to become the City Department of Public Utilities (DPU) Operations Center, occupying the old Research Laboratory at the corner of Maury and Jeff Davis Highway, and its additions.

Unfortunately, that left the buildings on the 11 other acres to crumble to the state that you see in the warehouse pictures above.

November 2019 — reconstructed Warehouse building at Port City

November 2019 — reconstructed Warehouse building at Port City

Enter Port City and a $60 million dollar overhaul of four interconnected brick buildings and 11 former tobacco storage sheds into 291 apartments plus 23 artist studios, creating upscale apartments for workforce housing (Richmond Times-Dispatch). So the good news is that the dilapidated state of affairs along Jeff Davis should be addressed by mid-2020. The even better news is that the developer also plans to do the same for Model Tobacco right next door, which means that this corridor is, at last, getting some much-needed uplift.

(American Tobacco Company, South Richmond Complex is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


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Westover Hills Elementary Teachers and Staff to “Parade” Through the Neighborhood

Don’t call the cops this parade will be from the safe distance of their autos and there will be no direct contact with any students.

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Friday don’t be surprised if you see a long line of cars snaking through your neighborhood. It’s just local teachers and staff saying goodbye for now to their students.

From Westover Hills Elementary:

Teachers and staff are going to PARADE all through our school’s zone tomorrow morning to say “Hi” and “Goodbye” 😢 to students at their homes from the responsible distance of their cars. They expect to be in our neighborhoods from about 9:20-11:00 AM. If you are home (like you should be!), step out on the porch and give a wave and a “thank you” (and don’t freak out if you see a whole bunch of cars driving slowly through the neighborhood in a long line)”.

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South of the James Farmers Market will be a Drive-thru Farmers Market this Saturday

Drive-Thru Market on Saturday, March 28th, 9 am – 1 pm. Pre-orders ONLY. Customers will not leave vehicles.

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There will be a Drive-thru South of the James Market on Saturday, March 28th, from 9 AM to 1 PM. There are some very important rules to follow for this to work. Pre-orders only from the specific vendor. Those vendors might have some of their own rules, follow them. Customers will not leave their cars. Reach out to the specific vendor for what they have and place your pre-order.

For this to work there can’t be cars just cruising the vendors to see what they can buy. Pre-order from the vendors directly. Most vendors are posting what they’ll have and how to pre-order at the South of the James Farmers Market Facebook.

It will be interesting to see how this works out with keeping traffic flowing and how many cars show up. I’m sure greater minds than I have a plan in place. There will be some hiccups, be patient, you will get your bread and salsa.

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Councilperson Stephanie Lynch taking Monthly Meeting to Facebook Live

The 5th District first Facebook Live meeting is on Thursday, March 26 at 6pm. The agenda will include COVID information, businesses relief efforts, extended tax deadlines, and community outreach/volunteering while practicing social distancing.

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Since meeting in person is obviously off the table 5th District Councilperson Stephanie Lynch is bringing her meeting to Facebook Live. This will be happening tomorrow, Thursday, March 26th, at 6 PM. It’s also worth reminding everyone that this is uncharted territory for most and there will be technology hiccups, leaders won’t have all the answers, and patience is more valuable (only slightly) than toilet paper.

Meeting Notice

We will be attempting our first Facebook Live meeting on Thursday, March 26 at 6pm. The agenda will include COVID information, businesses relief efforts, extended tax deadlines, and community outreach/volunteering while practicing social distancing.

Please comment in the event if you have a specific topic you would like covered. If we can not get to it we will try to include it in the April newsletter and on social media.

We’ll be loading a bunch of PSAs in this event for review and sharing.

We are thinking of all of you.

Best,
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