Business

Danville tobacco warehouse to be razed

Owner Jerry Rankin earlier this month in Farmers Tobacco Warehouse in Danville, which once served as an agricultural hub for Central Kentucky. Demolition is expected to be complete this week.
Owner Jerry Rankin earlier this month in Farmers Tobacco Warehouse in Danville, which once served as an agricultural hub for Central Kentucky. Demolition is expected to be complete this week. AP

DANVILLE — A Central Kentucky tobacco warehouse that once served as an agricultural hub has been sold to Centre College and is slated for demolition.

The destruction of Farmers Tobacco Warehouse No. 1 in Danville is set to begin in about a week. It will become the second piece of what was once the area's agricultural center to be destroyed in just more than a month. Centre College also bought and tore down Boyle County Stockyards.

Warehouse owner Jerry Rankin told The Advocate-Messenger that Centre paid a fair price for the property, which had been in use since 1927, but he declined to discuss specifics until the sale is finalized.

The main floor of the warehouse is 69,000 square feet of hardwood floors, with 45,000 square feet in the basement and a 15,000-square-foot area off of the basement.

Rankin said that the warehouse had sold 78 million pounds of tobacco since 2000 and that he will attempt to fill the need for a market. Rankin, who also owns the smaller Farmers Tobacco Warehouse No. 2 across the street, said the company will have the first sale of the year in that warehouse and hold others at another location that hasn't been determined.

For Rankin, selling the property was a tough decision. The Rankin family's roots run deep at the site.

Rankin's father, Tommy, who died in 2004, spent most of his life in tobacco fields and at the warehouse, where he began working for the owners, brothers John and R.H. Bright, while in high school. Rankin said he still remembers his father using mules in the fields and to haul the crop.

Tommy Rankin became a partner in the warehouse in 1948, and Jerry Rankin, now 70, grew up at his heels before becoming a partner in 1980. Jerry Rankin learned lessons about work and what it meant to be a farmer from his father and the Brights from the time he was barely big enough to walk, he said.

"They were extremely hard workers and extremely tough," Rankin said. "They were full-time farmers and full-time warehouse men and great at both. Dad started out as a tenant farmer on about 1,000 acres, then became a sharecropper on the land for many years before he owned it."

Over time, Rankin watched tobacco go from hand-tied and carted around the warehouse floor on hand-powered wooden "duckbills," to bales weighing hundreds of pounds that took heavy machinery to move from place to place.

In addition to a restaurant and some sleeping quarters, the basement of the building once housed rows of stalls for those who brought their crop to market by horse.

Rankin said people from around the region would stay in the warehouse, some fraternizing and playing dice well into the night, intensifying the sense of community.

"We have always done so well here because farmers in this area had tremendous pride in their crop and were extremely knowledgeable," Rankin said.

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