Welcome to the guided tour of the Shade Tobacco Museum operated by the Havana History & Heritage Society. The Society was formed in early 2017 to preserve and share the history of this area. The Museum was opened later in 2017 to further the mission of the Society. The Museum is located within the Planter’s Exchange complex. Planter’s Exchange is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a fitting site for the Shade Tobacco Museum. Be sure to visit the Planter’s Exchange exhibit in the Museum.
The Shade Tobacco Museum is named for the tobacco crop that was grown in this area for about 100 years. Tobacco is native to this hemisphere and was grown by Native Americans. In 1828 William DuVal introduced a Cuban tobacco to the area. Soon afterward John “Virginia” Smith came to Gadsden County bringing with him seeds of tobacco grown in Virginia. Crossing the Cuban tobacco with tobacco from the Virginia seeds, Gadsden farmers developed a strain of tobacco which produced a large leaf when grown in filtered sunlight. Over the years, the farmers tried shading the tobacco plants with slats and finally cheesecloth attached to wire frames over the tobacco. Gadsden County, Florida, and Decatur and Grady counties in Georgia produced most of the shade grown tobacco used for the outer wrapper of expensive handmade cigars.
As Gadsden County grew and flourished from the profits of shade tobacco, so did Havana which was established in 1906. The proximity to the railroad and a robust farm based economy spurred the growth of the town. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Havana boasted a thriving downtown area with several department/dry goods stores, groceries, movie theater, hardware and farm supply stores, drug stores, barber shops, appliance dealers, restaurants and motels, as well as schools, churches and strong civic groups.
Wage and hour laws covering farm workers along with increased tobacco farming in Central America lead to the end of profitable shade tobacco farming in Gadsden County and south Georgia. Havana’s businesses closed as more locals worked and shopped in Tallahassee. Antiques and collectibles are a mainstay of the Havana downtown area now, and an energized Main Street initiative is bringing increased business and events to Havana.
The Shade Tobacco Museum exhibits feature cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco and the making of cigars. Churches, schools, and businesses past and present that impact Havana are among the exhibits.
This project is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources and the State of Florida.
We are sincerely grateful for this funding and the opportunity to share Havana’s history with you.