Tobacco festival in Conway teaches farm life

For some, the Tobacco Heritage Festival on the L.W. Paul Living History Farm near Conway Saturday was a reminder of the lives they once lived. For others, it was a first look into what farm life was like around the 1950s.

“The first time I saw tobacco growing, I thought it was cabbage. I didn’t know tobacco was green. For people like me, it’s wonderful to see it firsthand. The fact that people are keeping it alive is so important,” said JoeAnn Edge, a Florida native who lives in the Maple area.

The Horry County Museum operates the farm. The Friends of the Museum, which presented the festival, and many other volunteers worked to make the day interesting for visitors.

For the first time, people could go inside the visitor’s center, view antiques and buy food or products. There were hogs, chickens, mules and a tractor exhibit, with volunteers weaving, making lye soap and working with green and dry tobacco.

“I want to know more,” Sylvia Jiminez said after watching Friends of the Museum president Rhonda Etherden work with cured tobacco. She and her husband, Carmelo Jiminez, moved from New Jersey to Conway, and she had never seen green or cured tobacco.

“It’s hard work, and it takes a lot of people to do the stuff. They have to find everything on the farm and make stuff out of it,” said Kewan Johnson, 8, of Conway.

A gristmill powered by a 1915 engine manned by volunteer Elliott Smith provided an example of what Kewan was talking about.

“I used to take the corn to the mill,” said George Shular of Conway as he recalled how his family got their corn ground into meal or grits.

Dr. Edward Proctor, 84, a retired surgeon who grew up working hard on a farm near Conway, was there with his caregiver, Billie Joe Liuzza of New Jersey. He wanted her to see what farm life was like in the past.

“I think it’s great,” Liuzza said of the festival.

Proctor’s father gave him and his brother an acre of tobacco to farm while they were in high school and let them keep the money they made.

“I put it in a savings account. I finally used it when I bought my wife’s engagement ring,” he said.

The festival also stirred Proctor’s memory of a long battle to save the life of a poor 15-year-old farm boy diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in the 1950s. That boy was Larry W. Paul, who has credited Proctor with saving his life.

Paul, owner of The Paul Company, has financed the farm, donated numerous antiques and had his construction crews build the structures there. It is wonderful, Proctor said, to see what Paul has done to preserve the history of farming.

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