Tobacco and Danville grew together. By the mid-nineteenth century, the thin, marginally fertile sandy soil in the counties around Danville, along with an improved flue-curing method, produced the highly valued bright-leaf tobacco. In 1858, Thomas D. Neal inaugurated the “Danville System” of open warehouse tobacco auctions, which allowed buyers to inspect and bid on each pile of tobacco, as opposed to the old system of purchasing based on a sample from tobacco already packed in closed hogsheads. The new system spread like wildfire and helped make Danville a major tobacco marketing center. Even more important was the rapid development in the 1870s and early 1880s of the plug and twist chewing tobacco industry. Then in the 1890s came the era of consolidation when the big companies ate up the small independent ones. Already, in the 1880s, some of the capital produced by the tobacco industry was feeding Danville's cotton mill fever, and from the 1890s, consolidation shifted even more local money from tobacco to cotton.
Most of Danville's tobacco-related buildings are south of the Dan River and east of Main Street. This architectural treasure of tobacco history has prizeries buildings where tobacco was packed in hogsheads, auction warehouses, and storage buildings dating from the 1870s to the present. Most are three- or four-story brick buildings, usually symmetrical in form, with load-bearing walls largely unadorned except at the cornices, window openings, and parapets. Generally they have sash windows with segmental-arched heads or are set in segmental arches. Many of those with decked parapets and recessed brick panels were designed by Thomas B. Fitzgerald. The late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century structures of the new conglomerates saw the rise of more ornate and complex tobacco industry buildings. Then came the unadorned and often metal warehouses of the twentieth century, economical and plain, unlike their more ornamented predecessors.
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