Most people are aware of what a large part the apple industry played in the development of Benton County and Bentonville...Benton County at the turn of the century had more apple trees than any other county in the United States, we shipped more apples, both fresh and dried, had more evaporators than any other county, and had the largest apple brandy distillery and apple vinegar factory west of the Mississippi. Our apple growers won more awards at the St. Louis and San Francisco Exposition than any other county in the US. But were you aware that before the apple, our county raised the finest award winning tobacco in the country?
In the 1880's it was the largest cash crop in the county. Early settlers here from Kentucky are said to have brought the first tobacco seed into the county somewhere around 1833, according to J. Dickson Black. By 1840 tobacco was a cash crop on many farms in the county. The quality was much higher than that being grown in Kentucky at the time. In 1860, 37,725 lbs of top grade tobacco was shipped out of the county. Things slowed down a little during the war, but afterward by 1870 they were growing fields full of Virginia Golden Leaf, White Burley, Yellow Pryor, and Hico Wrapper Leaf. 200,000 lbs were shipped out in 1870 from 547 acres. From 1880 to 1887 the crop ran about 400,000 lbs per year. Bentonville had several tobacco buyers in town and for years Trotter & Wilkes was the biggest tobacco company in Bentonville, and made a full line of tobacco goods sold over six states. In a newspaper article from 1890, it was said that Benton County tobacco was superior to that grown anywhere else in the United States and that we could produce up to 2 million lbs per year. By about 1888 the tobacco industry had begun to fade out as farmers began to cut down on total acres grown. Although Benton County tobacco took first place in the Cotton Exchange Fair in New Orleans in the early 1880's, it soon gave way to the apple industry.
I have always said that Benton County was extremely fortunate in that we had fertile ground here on the Ozark Plateau between the Ozarks and the Boston Mountains and we had the ability to bring in top dollar cash crops in the form of tobacco, then apples, then cattle and dairy, then chickens, and then finally Sam Walton arrived and changed history. Isn't that amazing?