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The Leading Interest

With a total of 3,813 farms, comprising 71.2 per cent of her total area and ranking her within the first ten counties of the State in the output of almost every agricultural product, Washington County claims the soft as its principal industry. Long noted as one of the best balanced agricultural sections in Virginia, it raises corn and wheat and tobacco and hay and cattle and sheep--in fact, every crop, with the exception of peanuts and cotton, that is giown anywhere in the entire State. Ranging from 26,351 acres given over to the growing of corn to the one acre reported planted with lettuce, almost everything is grown in Washington County. Farm property aggregated $21,785,346 in 1930 and did a $8,652,838 business (175 farms not reporting) in 1930.

But in spite of the fertility of the soil, a desirarne climate, and the variety of crops grown, few farmers are really well-off. Since 1921, few farmers in the entire country have been well-off. The agriculturalist knew real depression while the remainder of the nation was still wallowing in hysterical prosperity. The condition of the farmers of America has grown steadily worse until today the great majority of them are hopelessly in debt, unable to sell their products for enough to supply them with even the barest necessities of living.

The general condition of American agriculture is a thesis too evolved, too complicated, tee thoroughly vital to be discussed here. It cannot be summarized into a few paragraphs. An enormous amount of material has been printed on the subject.

Suffice it to say that Virginia has escaped the worst force of the agricultural hurricane and that Washington County, bad as conditions are, is better off than the State as a whole.

The 26,372 cattle reported in the agricultural census of 1930 ranked Washington fourth among the counties of the State. Both dairying and the raising of beef cattle are principal industries. Long neglected, tobacco is now a chief crop. Good prices have been received for it during the last few years and there is now some danger of a surplus.

But let us take this subject of agriculture, pry it apart, and examine its components more closely.

Idle Land

There are 386,560 acres included in the total area of Washington County. Almost three-quarters of this total, or 274,168 acres, is at present included in farms, placing the county eleventh in the amount of land embraced by farms. As the ten counties above Washington in the list are all considerably larger, this indicates that she is making a very creditable showing. This and the fact that the total area of all farms has remained approximately the same for over thirty years shows that there is very little land outside of present farms which is suitable or adaptable to agriculture.

Farm land is classified by the 1930 Census of Agriculture in thece general ways: crop laAd, pasture land and woodland not used for pasture. Crop land totals 7,4,974 acres, only 27.4 per cent of the total; pasture land, 141,373 acres, or 51.3 per cent; and woodland, 46,148 acres, 16.8 per cent of the whole. The remaining four per cent of the farm land is taken up by buildings, roadways, and so forth. The proportion of all this terra firma in farms that was improved in 1920, i.e., "all land regularly tilled, land lying fallow, land in pasture, which has been cleared or tilled, land lying in gardens, orchards, vineyards and nurseries, and land occupied by farm build- ings," is 67.5 per cent, placing the county eighth in Virginia and comfortably above the State average of 51 per cent.

Emerging from this maze of statistics, we discover that Washington County has 8,597 acres of crop land lying idle. This is an unusually high amount. Under ordinary conditions this land could he reforested but considering the present state of the farmer, it is probably best left as it is. The agriculturalist today should not expand but concentrate. There is a surplus of almost every product on the yearly market and the wise farmer is not the one who tries to produce more, but the one who tries to produce more economically. He is the man who, by better fertilization and more care, grows a crop that is superior to his neighbor's.

Farm Tenancy

The problem of farms occupied by tenants is one which is growing increasingly serious. Before the Civil War, this phase of agricultural life was not so large a problem, but the disappearance of public land, the breaking up of large plantations, have made the total of rented farms grow steadily from decade to decade until, in 1925, 38.6 per cent of all farms in the United States were occupied by others than their owners. In 1932, it is estimated that this total is nearing fifty per cent.

Dr. Paul Vogt in his "Introduction to Rural Economics" comments: "The average length of lease is about four years. As leases are now written, this results in a lack of interest in the upkeep of the farm, on the part of both owner and tenant. It also results in the adoption of systems of farm management that tend to get the largest cash returns within a limited time, regardless of the effect on the fertility of the soil. This is a national menace and deserves the careful consideration of statesmen everywhere." This is a representative opinion of the great number of authorities the country over.

Virginia, with 28.1 per cent of its farms operated by tenants in 1930 is under the national average and is favorably ahead of all other Southern states. The Old Dominion between 1920 and 1925 was one of the few commonwealths which cut down their proportions of leased farms, although in the next five years tenancy gained three per cent.

But we have strayed far from Washington County. In 1930, 29.6 per cent, as compared to 23.2 per cent in 1925 and 25.9 per cent in 1910, of the county's farms were run by tenants. Of these 1,127 farms, almost half were run by croppers, who are in this county mainly tenants giving definite portions of their products for the use of the land, but furnish their own implements and animals. This is the least harmful form of tenancy, as the operator usually treats the farm more or less as if it were his own. There is little absentee landlordism.

Washington's tenancy rate which decreased systematically over a long period of years, took an alarming jump between. 1925 and 1930 and is still climbing. From 890 farms under some form of tenancy in 1925, the total grew to 1,127 five years later. Almost all of these changes of tenure were due to mortgage foreclosures, and though Washington County has suffered heavily, and there is no ready money in the area today, it is still better off than many sections of the nation. In the fall of 1932, sentiment was brighter and the first glimmerings of recovery were seen.

Great men have racked their brains in the last year or so in a search for the solution to the growing problem of absentee landlordism. How can the country remain a democracy if the only large proprietorial class, the so-called "backbone of the nation" are deprived of their land? What will be the ultimate result of banks and insurance companies constituting unwilling landlords for great areas? How shall the whole precarious situation of the farmer be solved? Specific topics lead to broader themes which in turn wander in a maze of speculations, counterplots and mathematics.

Size, Number, and Value of Farms

The prevailing size of farms in the United States on the average is that known as the family farm, or one which may be operated largely by the labor of the farm family. This condition is considered to be a wholesome development. The actual sizes of the farms of Washington County may be best summarized in a table.

Classification of Washington County Farms According to Size
ACRES Number in 1930 Number in 1925 Number in 1910
Under 3 6 - 6
3 to 9 529 425 447
10 to 19 605 594 476
20 to 49 1,057 1,084 892
50 to 99 837 856 796
100 to 174 458 506 558
175 to 259 163 186 214
260 to 499 111 125 147
500 to 999 37 38 54
Over 1000 10 13 16
Total 3,813 3,829 3,602

It is noted from the above table that the general tendency has been toward decrease of the smallest and largest farms and marked increase in those of 20 to 100 acres.

The average size farm in Washington County was 71.9 acres in 1930-just about what it should be for the most efficient growing of the products now raised. Highland County, with farms averaging 256.8 acres in size, led the list of the 85 counties whose farms average bigger than Washington's. Mathews' farms averaging 24.3 acres ranked one hundredth. The average for the State was 98.1 acres.

The aforementioned 3,813 farms of Washington County were exceeded in number by four counties only, all of which are much larger in total area. Pittsylvania County led with 7,563 farms and Arlington was last with only fifty-one.

The average value of $62.57 per acre placed the county fifteenth in this respect. Arlington, with her urban population, led with $336.38 and sandy Appomattox was last with $14.70. The State average was $40.75.

Machinery on the Farm

The value of all machinery used on Washington County farms was, in 1930, $632,499, ranking her sixteenth in Virginia. Considering that the county is tenth in farm acreage, this is not a very creditable showing, but even so the county leads all other Southwest Virginia units. Per acre of crop land the value of machinery is $7.15, below fifty-one other counties of the State.

It is easily seen from the above that Washington is below par in the use of machinery on her farms. But the county has a large percentage of pasture lands. Under present conditions it would not be wise for the farmer to expand mechanically, even if he had the capital.

Over-expansion in the use of mechanical aids has been the downfall of many a farmer. Today, there are universal surpluses of crops and labor, the best policy is that of retrenchment, of carrying on scientific manual farming. The agriculturalist will do well to remember that the cause of most bankruptcies is excessive overhead and debt.


Placed fourth in Virginia, with a total value of $2,232,292, Washington County may safely call livestock its principal industry. Cattle and sheep raising and dairying, may be considered the principal subdivisions of this head. Only three counties exceed her in total number of cattle-26,372. The value of domestic animals per acre of all land in farms is $8.17, considerably higher than most counties.

An interesting way to compare a county's livestock resources is to work out a table of animal units. An animal unit may be one horse or mule or dairy cow, two beef cattle or colts or calves, five hogs, ten pigs, or one hundred poultry. An average farm in this section should have one unit to each five acres of land.

Washington County's Total Livestock Resources
5306 horses and mules 5306
70 horse and mule colts (1/2 unit) 35
9,368 dairy cattle 9368
3,075 calves (1/2 unit) 1537.5
13,929 other cattle (1/2 unit) 6964.5
13,769 sheep (1/5 unit) 2754
6,145 hogs (1/5 unit) 1229
5,363 pigs (1/10 unit) 536.3
150,440 chickens (1/100th unit) 1504.4
Total animal units 29.231.7

Taking the 216,347 acres of crop and pasture land as a basis for figures it is found that according to this unique method the county is but 67 per cent supplied with animals. In other words, 14,035 more units are needed to supply one for each five acres of improved land.

But, in this case, this analysis is misleading in some items. There is, of course, plenty of room for more livestock. As it is, Washington County supplies all her own egg, chicken, dairy and beef needs, besides exporting milk, poultry products, butter, condensed milk, wool and many carloads of beef cattle and lambs yearly.

A weekly livestock market established in Bristol in June, 1932 has stabilized prices, cut out much speculation by the traders at the expense of the farmers and helped the business of the town. It is discussed in more detail in the chapter on Evidences of Progress.

Horses and Mules

Man's ancient friend, the horse, is speedily being drowned in the gasoline of this motorized age. Foflowing the national trend, there has been a decided decline in the number of these animals in the county. In 1910, there were 7,008 horses valued at $718,140, while in 1925, the number was but 5,263, worth $844,240. Nine hundred more disappeared in the next five-year period, bringing the total to 4,398 in 1930. It should be noted that while the number decreased less than one-third, the value of the animals was in 1925 less than half the former one.

Bearing in mind the old adage that "horses and men may come and go but mules kick on forever", a slight increase in that noble beast occurred in the same fifteen-year period. In 1910, there were 1,327 mules and in 1925, 1,304. In 1930, however, depression hit the mule business, the total number being but 913.

It is to be regretted that the breeding of pureblooded horses is an industry almost extinct in Washington County. Portions of the terrain compare with the famed Blue Grass regions of Kentucky, and yet little interest has ever been taken in this, one of the highest of rural pursuits.


In 1910, the United States Census counted 12,989 swine valued at $82,744. Fifteen years later, the number had decreased to 8,408, valued at $74,667. According to the Federal Census of 1930 this number was raised to 11,508 (though the count was taken in April instead of January.)

Washington County ranked nineteenth among her sister counties in the number of pigs. It is an industry which though not exactly neglected could be intensified on certain farms and made a paying proposition when markets are favorable.


In 1930, Washington, with 16,800 sheep, worth $185,000, ranked eighth in the State. For a long period, the production of mutton and, to a lesser extent of wool, has been a steady industry, not varying enormously from year to year. The thousands of acres of rolling pasture lands particularly fit the section for this industry.


According to estimates in Virginia Farm Statistics for 1928, Washington County ranks sixth in the State in the number and value of poultry. There were 214,000 chickens, valued at $220,400 raised in that year.

A feature of this phase of agriculture is that there are few great chicken farms, as there are in other sections of the State located nearer large cities, but every farmer has a large chicken yard as an adjunct to his property and sells to local produce houses which ship when the market is good.

Here, again, is a possible form of specialization. If some few men would concentrate by conservative stages on chickens they could, by means of mass production and the elimination of the middleman or local produce house, realize good dividends.

Beef Cattle

Washington stands next to Augusta and Rockiagham-much larger counties-in the raising of beef cattle. Several hundreds of carloads are shipped each year to the northern stockyards. Estimates by the Virginia Division of Agricultural Statistics and the United States Census over a period of several years indicate an average total of some 25,000 cattle. About half of this total are beef cows and beef heifers. Certain sections of Washington County together with some half dozen adjoining counties in Virginia and West Virginia produce on pasture land without grain a higher quality of beef than is similarly produced anywhere else in the nation.

In 1928, 6,551 head of cattle were shipped by rafl, mostly to the Jersey City stockyards. This was an increase of 1,170 head over the previous year.

Though the cattle producers throughout the district complain that their's is a dying industry, that it each year becomes increasingly difficult to get good cattle, there is no reason why this condition should exist. The county is suited to grazing, transportation facilities are excellent in all directions, and there will ever be a good market for the eastern raised cow. The industry is slipping-if it is slipping-because cattle men do not go about breeding in an efficient manner, or because several successive lean years have discouraged them. The only reason for the decline of the cattle industry is that cattle men seem to lose money every year, a situation in common with the general agricultural condition.


In 1929, a total of 8,315 cows were milked in Washington County, placing the county fifth in the State. The dairy business is an up and coming one. In 1929, 3,448,417 gallons of milk were produced, an increase of 598,527 gallons over the production in 1919. The county ranked fifth in butter production with 644,600 pounds in 1929, and the total value of dairy products was $534,910.

Dairying, as is true of several other agricultural branches touched upon, is merely a side line with most farmers. They produce enough butter, cream and milk for their own needs and send their surplus to some creamery within the county, or to a collection station for shipment, or to the condensed milk plant at Abingdon.

The quality of the milk is good. Jersey cows head the list of registered animals but there is a goodly number of Holsteins and Guernseys also.

Of the twenty-three Washington County dairymen reporting to a special survey of the Virginia Department of Agriculture, seven indicated their principal difficulty as the low price of milk, six as labor trouble, and four as high-priced feeds. None mentioned the high cost of production, poor roads, or insufficient pasture--all three obstacles in other sections.


According to United States Agricultural Census of 1925, Washington County ranked third, next to Loudoun and Augusta, in corn production, raising 796,216 bushels. In 1920, the county was fourth with a harvested production of 746,791 bushels.

It might he interesting to compare the yield-by-acre figures for several years. In 1910, 32,191 acres were utilized in producing 893,507 bushels of corn, or 27.7 bushels per acre. In 1924, the figures had risen to 31.2, and in 1927, were 34, giving Washington a very creditable showing among her sister counties, yet still leaving room for increase up to the forty bushels per acre of the leading counties. Individual farms of the county have boasted occasional yields up to seventy-five and one hundred bushels.


Tobacco is an industry which has grown phenomenally in the last several years, and which, at present, is slightly overemphasized. In the production of burley tobacco, used almost exclusively in the cigarette industry, Washington, with 2,070,000 pounds in 1927, nearly three million in 1928 and 4,068,160 pounds in 1929, is far ahead of all other counties. In 1927, the total value of burley grown in Virginia was $1,160,000; Washington's crop was worth $852,600, or almost three-fourths of the whole.

Prices offered for burley tobacco are much higher than those paid for any other kind. In 1928, buyers at Abingdon paid 30.4 cents per pound. These prices so aroused the farmer that the next year 330,000 additional pounds were grown-and prices fell to 24.5 cents. Those two sentences should point a moral.

Undoubtedly, tobacco production is an important industry of Washington County. In 1921, 770,000 pounds were grown in the burley district of Virginia, (comprising Washington and small parts of Russell and Scott). In 1929, 6,950,000 pounds-nine times as much-were produced. Tobacco is by far the richest yield-per-acre crop that can be grown.

And it is quite obvious that the semi-mountain soil of Washington is more suitable to this crop than any other in the State. If not emphasized out of all reason, tobacco should remain one of the county's greatest industries.


Ranking second in acreage, both in the State and among the crops in the county, Washington's hay crop reached a total of 35,300 tons in 1927, placing her fifth in yield among the counties. The average yield per acre was 1.6 tons as compared with a State average of 1.37, and a district ratio of 1.57 (the district comprises the seventeen Southwest counties whose physical features and products are, in general, the same). Mixed timothy and clover is the principal type.


There were 13,429 acres given to wheat in 1930, yielding a total of 158,996 bushels, and ranking the county fifteenth in the State. The average bushels per acre were eleven, against a Virginia total of 12.2. Wheat is a crop that has declined a good deal in late years, as an increasing population has discovered that tobacco, truck farming and such interests bring in greater dividends. Besides commercial wheat production is done most profitably in larger farms than generally characterize the agriculture of Washington County.

Other Grains

The only additional cereal crop grown in any quantity is oats, of which 29,875 bushels were produced in 1929, as compared with 51,763 bushels in 1925 and 69,070 bushels in 1910. The decline, of course, is due to the fact that much of the crop was used as horse feed and those animals are fast disappearing.

Some 11,000 bushels of buckwheat were harvested in 1925, compared to 18,000 fifteen years before.

The production of rye has increased over 400 per cent in the last fifteen years. There were 1,083 bushels raised on 91 acres in 1910 and 4,265 bushels were grown on 362 acres in 1925. Ia 1925, 464 bushels of barley were produced. Some twenty acres planted in sorghums complete the cereal grain crops of Washington County.


Six hundred and fifty-two acres were devoted to the growing of white potatoes in 1929 and 56,222 bushels were produced. These figures, though the county lies far from the lowland where potatoes thrive, rank her twenty-third in the State. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the average person consumes about three bushels of potatoes per year. As the per capita production of this vegetable is only 1.3 bushels, it is seen that not only does the county have no export surplus, but it has to import them from nearby regions, such as Wise County, where there is a production beyond local needs.

A View of White Top Mountain
A View of White Top Mountain

Fruits and Truck

The fifteen-year period, 1910-1925, showed an increase of some 12,000 apple trees, and 34,000 bushels produced. In the latter year, 224,293 bushels were grown on 128,184 trees, placing Washington fifteenth among the counties of the State. This industry, however, declined in 1930 by some 34,000 trees. Though a few carloads are shipped yearly from Konnarock and small consignments are made, the great majority of the apples are produced on a non-commercial basis. Peaches, pears and grapes are also grown exclusively for home consumption and the number of tree and vines has more than doubled since 1910. Figures for 1925 give, 22,396 peach trees, 6,353 pear trees, and 6,389 grape vines.

Situated somewhat south of the great cabbage growing country, Washington, however, devoted some forty-five acres to their production and in good seasons many Northern shipments are made. Tomatoes and sweet potatoes are also grown in abundance. The fertile lowlands near Washington County's river beds are adapted to intensive truck farming. Cantaloupes, strawberries, sweet corn, onions, lettuce, watermelons-practically every type of fruit and vegetable is grown in greater or less quantities.

Statistics Concerning Washington County Agriculture

Figures below are from U. S. Census of Agriculture unless otherwise noted.

Washington County Agriculture Rankings
Rank Category Value
5th In total numbor of farms (1930)
Pittsylvania was first with 7,568. Arlington's 51 farms rated her last.
5th In farm population (1930)
Again Pittaylvania led with 41,394 and Arlington was last with 851.
7th In value of all farm property (1930)
Rockingham's property valued at $32,810,883 placed her first while Arlington trailed with $1,391,725.
18th In value of land per acre (1925)
Arlington ranked first with $371.60, Buckingham was last with $14.46.
8th In crop values per acre of crop land (1925)
First was Accomac with $139.15 and one-hundredth was Charles City with $9.85.
16th In value of farm machinery. (1930)
Augusta was first with machinery worth $1,616,654 and Arlington was one-hundredth with $24,725.
12th In value of all crops produced (1930)
Accomac ranked first with crops valued at $11,747,779 and Arlington was last with $21,246.
5th In value of all livestock (1930)
$3,291,878 was Augusta's total to rank her first and Arlington was last with $41,997.
11th In value of gross farm incomes (1929)
Accomac was first with $12,812,700; Arlington was last with $96,560.
16th In production of wheat in bushels (1930)
Rockingham led with 789,555 bushels, Dickenson was 98th with 50 bushels and Isle of Wight and Southampton reported no production. State-8,575,461 bu.
6th In production of corn in bushels (1930)
Accomac led, producing 1,079,377 bushels and Arlington was last with 1,980. State-32,772,810.
4th In hay produced in tons (1930)
Augusta led with 50,112 tons and Arlington was last with 221. Stat~980,737 tons.
1st In the production of burley tobacco in pounds (1927)
Scott was second with 350,000 pounds and Buchanan was eighth and last with 14,000 pdunds. State total 2,811,000 pounds.
6th In the value of all tobacco (1928)[1]
Pittsylvania was first, growing tobacco valued at $3,896,100 and Orange was last among tobacco producing counties with $1,300. State total-$19,460,000.
8th In the production of buckwheat in bushels (1930)
Floyd headed the list with 42,062 bushels, Middlesex ranked 61st with six bushels and 89 counties grew no buckwheat. State-183,566.
9th In the production of oats in bushels (1930)
Augusta, with 69,696 bushels, was first, Isle of Wight was 99th with 13 bushels and Arlington reported no production. State- 1,127,824 bushels.
54th In the production of rye in bushels (1930)
Fauquier lead with 27,960 bushels, Norfolk was 98th with 12 bushels, and Mathews and Arlington reported no production. State total-440,384 bushels.
25th In production of potatoes in bushels (1927)[1]
Northampton was far in front with 5,950,000 bushels while Arlington was last with 4,000 bushels. State total -19,760,000 bushels.
51st In production of sweet potatoes in bushels (1927)[1]
Accomac led with 8,360,000 bushels and Tazewell was last with 600. State total-5,805,000.
29th In the production of apples in bushels (1928)
Frederick led with 3,630,000 bushels and Arlington and Charles City shared last with 1,000 bushels each. State total-16,100,000 bushels.
7th In the number of horses (1930)
Augusta led with 7,931 and Arlington was last with 64. State total-203,174.
4th In total number of cattle (1930)
Rockingham was first with 35,243; Arlington last with 414. State total-832,946.
6th In number of milk cows and heifers (1930)
Loudoun was first with 10,666 and Arlington last with 296, State 337,862
8th In number of sheep and lambs (1930)
Augusta ranked first with 56,671; Arlington 100th with 6. State-828,626.
13th In number of swine (1930)
Southampton led with 32,635; Arlington was last with 360. State-699,867.
7th In number of chickens (1930)
Rockingham County led with 381,205 and Arlington brought up the rear with 4,051. State approximation-7,648,808.
18th In value of dairy products (1930)
Londoun was first with $1,127,990; New Kent last with $14,663.
73rd In percentage of farm tenancy (1930)
Southampton was high with 66.4; Gloucester was low with 5.2. County average was 28.1.
59th In percentage of farms located on unimproved dirt roads
Dickenson was high with 91.9 and Henrico was low with 12.2. Average per county was 60.1.

1. Figures from Virginia Farm Statistics.

1930 Farm Census

The following table is a three year comparison of the facts relating to Washington County contained in the United States Census of Agriculture for 1920, 1925 and 1930.

Washington County Agriculture
Category 1930 1925 1920
Total Farms 3,813 3,929 3,459
Operated by
White farmers 3,776 3,787 3,420
Colored farmers 37 42 39
Owners (including part owners) 2,977 2,935 2,567
Managers 9 14 24
Tenants 1,127 890 838
Farm Land
All land in farms 274,168 298,951 312,194
Cropland 74,674 83,448 210,590
Pasture Total 141,373 144,162 -
Plowable pasture 68.686 92,094 -
Woodland pasture 18,441 21,346 -
Other pasture 54,249 30,722 -
Woodland not in pasture 46,148 60,971 79,308
All other farm land 11,673 10,370 4,912
Farm Values
All farm property $21,785,346 23,393,151 27,661,717
Land 14,801,514 15,952,121 19,532,540
Buildings 6,531,333 5,385,970 4,452,330
Implements and machinery 632,499 597,027 834,999
Livestock on farms 2,232,292 1,559,033 2,839,848
Detailed Livestock
Horses 4,452 5,263 5,987
Mules 924 1,304 1,216
All cattle 26,372 25,610 26,568
Beef cows and heifers 4,468 6,871 3,225
Diary cows and heifers 9,368 5,827 9,711
Sheep 30,207 13,769 13,522
Swine 11,508 8,408 13,185
Chickens 150,440 191,945 180,305
Principal Crops
Corn-Total acres 25,197 26,351 29,523
Harvested for grain, bushels 746,741 796,316 903,469
Cut for silage, tons 4,739 5,866 -
Cut for fodder, acres 258 180 -
Wheat-acres 13,429 13,110 25,271
Bushels 153,996 164,466 317,541
Hay-Acres 20,503 21,069 27,368
Tones 25,938 22,672 32,937
Tobacco--Acres 4,044 2,548 1,481
Pounds 4,068,160 2,330,333 1,275,935