The life of Gadsden Countian Douglas Poppell, now 95 years old, parallels closely the last 100 years of history in Gadsden County.
In his lifetime he has seen Gadsden County’s agricultural life-blood ebb and flow and rise and fall.
In a recent interview Douglas talked about his years on the farm and especially about the history of his beloved Gadsden County.
His father Bennett was raised on a farm on “The Glade” just north of Havana.
When Douglas was born his father was working at a dairy in Leon County where the fair grounds are now located.
By the age of three in 1922 Bennett moved Douglas and the rest of his family back to Coonbottom.
His father grew tobacco on the J.R. Long Farm where Douglas would start school and go through the fourth grade.
In those days, he said, shade tobacco was grown under slats (not the modern cheese cloth associated with shade tobacco in later years).
Farming is about long, hard days with little pay at best, especially for those working.
In many cases in those days before the Great Depression, sharecroppers would owe more than they made and in the case of shade tobacco farmers, that became apparent when the “Black Shank” hit farmers’ crops here in Gadsden County.
The black shank destroyed crops and left most sharecroppers with little or nothing to show for their hard work.
The Poppells were one of the families hit by the fungus that destroyed crops.
Douglas would move with his family to a farm in Hinson where his dad worked for a Dr. Harrell and they raised pole beans and corn.
They moved to the E and J Farm in Quincy (where the county jail is now located).
Douglas, now about 13, led the family’s milk cow by foot from Havana to Quincy for that move.
His father had a contract to grow four acres of sun tobacco for E.B. Shelfer and Swisher Company as a sharecropper.
Douglas’ father was told by Shelfer that his crop was the first tobacco of any kind he had gotten every penny for every pound.
The contracted price had been 13.5 cents a pound and the family stayed there for three years.
Next, the family moved to the Hough farm near Gretna.
After that farm, the Poppells moved to Hillside Farm on Old Federal Road south of Quincy in 1936.
Douglas would graduate from Quincy High School in 1939.
He would mary Elizabeth “Ducky” Carmen in September of 1941 in Bainbridge, Georgia and the pair had five children: Fain, Sharon, Howard, Al and Ed.
Eventually their union would produce 10 grandchildren and 22 great-grands.
Douglas would continue, like his father, to make farming his career.
Tobacco was back in favor with a new breed that was resistant to black shank and a new history of farming was on the horizon for Gadsden County by 1936.
Now tractors were starting to replace mules and an international demand for Gadsden County’s tobacco was on the rise.
An influx of money from northern banks and companies like American Sumatra and King Edward were investing in Gadsden County’s tobacco crops.
Soon Douglas was back again raising tobacco on the Hillside Farm where he had worked with his father.
At 24 he left Hillside Farm to become the superintendent of the E and J Shelfer Farm south of Quincy.
Douglas would then move to the Todd Farm and then to the Wetumpka Farm, which was owned by his father and him.
He would eventually run the Willis Farm, and Durden Farm, both belonging to King Edward Tobacco Company.
Tobacco was grown in Gadsden County up until 1975 when the last shade was planted.
The end of an era did not end Douglas’ farming. He would continue raising pole beans and other crops until 1985 when he retired.
Over the years Douglas built and tore down many tobacco barns.
He built his home using some of the lumber from torn down barns.
Sadly, his wife of 63 years passed away in 2004.
His cousin Ernest Moore, who has written two books about local history, decided to meet with Douglas to gather more history about their roots in Gadsden County.
From that meeting Moore has written a book, “Remembrances by Douglas H. Poppell” where he has documented their conversation about the Poppell family’s part in the history of Gadsden County.
The book was published in 2013 and is available at the Gadsden Arts Center in Quincy, Broken Shell Boutique in Havana and West Gadsden Historical Society’s Museum in Greensboro.
It is full of stories about Ram Pumps and family outings and the day-to-day operations of a tobacco farm.