Bluegrass Tobacco Company

Bluegrass Tobacco Company

The anchor of the neighborhood’s tobacco trade, however, was not Shelby. Rather, it was the Blue Grass Tobacco Company Warehouse.  The five-story building stands at the southeast corner of the intersection of Loudon and Bryan Avenues, and was built in two stages in 1904 and 1907.    

The first stage was begun in August of 1904, and it was associated with Ernest B. Drake, another Lexington entrepreneur who would become involved in a myriad of industries and businesses including large-scale tobacco distribution. Prior to constructing the 1904 building, however, Drake seemed primarily involved in farming and the sale of related implements at a “stand” on Cheapside. Among these implements was a “tobacco-worm destroyer,” a device that was critical for farmers growing the cash crop.

In April 1904, the Blue Grass Tobacco Company suffered a major loss from a fire at its leased Louisville factory. The news, however, proved good for the North End - the company announced in June that all operations would be located at a new complex on Loudon Avenue. Soon after, ground was broken on the now-dominant five-story structure.

By 1908, Blue Grass Tobacco Company was employing 300 workers, and producing 30 different tobacco brands. It was considered a good place to work, being a fully equipped, modern space that was well-lit and “airy.” Some reports concluded it a “healthful place to work.” 

Also in 1908, yet another structure was added to the neighborhood at the intersection of the Belt Line and North Limestone. The one-story structure had six rooms and served as joint offices for Blue Grass Tobacco Company and the American Hemp Company. 

Each of these two entities were led by W.J. Loughridge, the son-in-law of W. W. Bruce. Born in Mississippi, Loughridge appeared almost as the caricature of a southern gentleman “in manner, appearance and voice” but in terms of his energy seemed to have “the spirit of the energetic easterner or northerner in promoting affairs and in business ventures” according to a sketch published in the Lexington Leader in May 1909. Just as Hunt had become incredibly wealthy from hemp, Loughridge’s wealth came from both hemp and tobacco.

In 1909, Blue Grass Tobacco Company was partially sold to a northern syndicate and was reorganized as the Blue Grass Tobacco Works. Without any change in ownership, the name was again changed in 1910 to the J.D. Moore Tobacco Company. Good planning, Loughridge’s family ties, and entrepreneurial success were not the only causes for Blue Grass Tobacco’s success. Another opportunity for Loughridge was the politics of the tobacco crop towards the end of the Black Patch War.

The Black Patch War began as a response to the American Tobacco Company operating as a trust, fixing prices on tobacco through its control of the market. Farmers organized to boycott sales to the American Tobacco Company while a more militant group, known as the Night Riders, burned the crops of those who ignored the boycott. Most of the Night Riders’ actions occurred in western Kentucky and Tennessee, though the effects were felt across the industry. 

Local tobacco industry, like Blue Grass Tobacco, operated outside the trust and largely maintained favor with local farmers.  On November 27, 1908, the Lexington Leader reported that more than a dozen salespeople who had been sidelined due to diminished crop availability, likely resulting from the Black Patch War, were being put back on the road.

Irving Air Chute

Faded painting on the five-story structure bares allegiance to some of these name changes – the words “Blue Grass Tobacco Works” are still visible. The ghost painting advertisements also reveal that tobacco wasn’t the only industry to be supported by the building’s presence - others included coal, hay, corn, oats, lime, sand, cement, and more. 

Another industry, parachute manufacturing, also occurred in the single-story part of this structure now identified as 720 Bryan Avenue. From 1950 through 1952, the Irving Air Chute Company, Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y. manufactured parachutes and other items from the location. The company, best known for its manufacture of parachutes used during the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, had opened its first Lexington factory on West Main Street in 1942. A plan in 1950 would have relocated the manufacturing facility to South Broadway, but the move was opposed by the Fayette Fiscal Court. Instead, the parachute company rented the space at 720 Bryan Avenue. After only two years, however, the company relocated to a space on Versailles Road.