Parker Tobacco Company is a former tobacco purchasing, processing, marketing, and commercial storage operation in Maysville, Kentucky. It was demolished in 2011 after several arson attempts.
In 1932, Alex Parker, Sr., along with Frazer LeBus, Frank Vaughn of Fall City Tobacco of Louisville, purchased a small tobacco re-drying and storage facility on Buckley Place in Maysville. 1 The business, which contained one redryer, packing machine, and green prize rooms, prospered. Parker bought out his partners in 1934 and renamed the company Parker Tobacco. 3
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, Parker Tobacco purchased and processed tobacco on a commission-only basis for three to four Kentucky dealers and three of the domestic cigarette manufacturers. 3 After World War II concluded, the company grew by conducting commission packaging and storage for the United States Government. It also did increased business with domestic tobacco companies and dealers.
By 1958, Parker Tobacco had outgrown its facilities and it purchased a larger processing plant along Forest Avenue. The circa 1918 facility was once owned by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. 7 R.J. Reynolds had expanded upon their 225,154 square-foot building with an expansion that opened on September 23, 1925, growing to include 600 employees. 9 The company vacated it for a factory in Lexington. 3
Parker Tobacco installed a large threshing line in 1961 that allowed it to handle purchases in leaf, bundle or strip form. 3 The company began to purchase tobacco for their own account in burley and flue cured markets. It also started to ship tobacco back to Maysville for sale to customers and looked towards expanding in international markets.
Parker Tobacco’s workforce topped 500 with a payroll of $750,000. 9
By the late 1960’s, due to an increased demand of cigarettes worldwide, Parker Tobacco expanded overseas when it acquired at 25% 3 interest in Exportadora Catarinense de Ltda (EXCA) of Timbo, Brazil. 1 EXCA underwent a major expansion that led it to becoming one of the major exporters of the flue cured and dark air cured tobaccos. The Brazil operations were consolidated into a new 41-acre plant in Timbo. Parker Tobacco purchased an extra 50% interest in EXCA in 1970. 9
Parker Tobacco also became involved with markets in Malawi and Rhodesia in Africa. 9 It also partnered with the Dibrell brothers, who had pioneered production and exportation of burley tobacco in the Honduras. Together, Parker Tobacco and Dibrell formed Extaho.
Parker Tobacco became the first tobacco company to introduce off-shore burley to the United States market. 3 9 It not only handled tobacco in foreign markets, but processed them. That led to increased usage of the Maysville facility from four months a year to nine months a year.
The company looked to increase utilization of its plants further in the 1970’s. 3 By 1974, Parker Tobacco boasted a payroll of $1.6 million, 140 full-time employees, and 450 seasonal workers. 9 It agreed to purchase the Speedling Company of Sun City, Florida to produce seedling plants in a patented plastic tray in a greenhouse. 3 The venture flourished.
Parker Tobacco’s customers included eight domestic and three foreign manufacturers, and the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association. 9 To handle the spreading company, Parker International was incorporated on October 14, 1976. 2 In December, the new company acquired 100% of the capital stock of Parker Tobacco on a 4-to-1 basis, 1 with approximately 90% of the shares of Parker International owned by the Parker, Hillenmeyer and Chamness families. The new company was as a result of its international expansion and its growth from a mere redrying facility, into one that processed tobacco from other countries worldwide.
In 1985, Parker Tobacco exited its interests in Honduras where it had peaked at $5 million in revenue. 9 The company began a slow decline in the 1990’s, aided in part due to declining smoking rates in the United States. The elimination of government quotas also hurt the company’s finances, compounded when the burley cooperative refused to participate with Parker Tobacco over quality issues. 4
Parker Tobacco processed little tobacco in 1995 and 1996 and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1997 after a poor growing season. The Maysville complex was auctioned in 1998. Sam Parker, son of Parker Tobacco Company President Alex Parker, paid $955,000 for the bulk of the company’s properties. He intended at one point to reopen the business as a redrying facility under Kentucky Tobacco Processors. 7
Shortly after 10 p.m. on May 22, 2007, 6 a four-alarm fire that began in the prize and redrying room engulfed Parker Tobacco. 9 Several explosions rocked the complex due to the presence of propane tanks on tow motors. 7 The Maysville Fire Department dispatched multiple units and requested additional trucks from Orangeburg, Washington, Dover, Lewisburg, and Aberdeen Volunteer Fire Departments. It also requested a ladder truck from Ripley. 5 Over 100 firefighters responded to the call. By 11 p.m., the fire had been contained and was extinguished by 1 a.m. 6
The fire was declared an arson. 8
Another arson attempt on May 29 was contained to a nearby warehouse. 8
In early March 2010, with no viable use for the property, Sam Parker contracted out with a demolition contractor to raze Parker Tobacco. 9