Aug. 5, 2021, 7:30 a.m.
For practically 50 years, a 1,500-pound bell referred to as “El Reloj” stored the neighborhood of Ybor Metropolis, northeast of downtown Tampa, on schedule. It was the early 1900s within the immigrant enclave, lengthy earlier than cell telephones, and its numerous chimes would notify staff when it was time to go away for the manufacturing unit, when households had been late for church and when youngsters wanted to cease the baseball video games with the intention to be residence for dinner. The well-known clock tower was not a part of a church or a metropolis constructing, as you would possibly suspect. It was on prime of a cigar manufacturing unit.
Within the early 1900s, Ybor Metropolis was the cigar capital of the world. The port metropolis’s subtropical climate and shut proximity to Cuba made it a super hub for cigar manufacturing. At its top, it’s estimated that 10,000 cigar rollers labored in 200 cigar factories producing as much as a half-billion hand rolled cigars a yr. Every cigar manufacturing unit was designed in the identical method: a three-story constructing, 50 toes throughout and located east to west to reduce injury from hurricanes and maximize solar publicity and circulation from breezes. In 1910, when the Regensburg Cigar Manufacturing facility, affectionately nicknamed El Reloj due to its clock tower, opened it was the world’s largest cigar manufacturing unit by way of sq. toes, designed to accommodate 1,000 cigar rollers who may roll greater than 250,000 cigars a day or 60 million per yr.
To honor the town’s cigar-making legacy, in 2020, house owners transformed 1,750 sq. toes of the manufacturing unit, now the J.C. Newman Cigar Firm, right into a historical past museum that features artifacts courting again to 1895. The corporate started excursions via the working manufacturing unit, and the chimes from the restored clock tower ring out once more over Ybor Metropolis.
The town itself was named after Spanish immigrant Vincent Martinez Ybor, who moved his cigar manufacturing unit from Cuba to Florida in 1885. By 1890, Ybor Metropolis’s inhabitants was round 6,000. Although most of the residents had been Hispanic, immigrating from Spain or Spanish Cuba, there have been additionally Italian, German, Romanian Jewish and Chinese language immigrants in Ybor Metropolis. The incoming immigrants started reworking the swampy Tampa outpost right into a trilingual, intercultural neighborhood. The odor of freshly baked Cuban bread stuffed the streets within the morning; Italian, Jewish and Cuban social golf equipment popped up alongside the principle avenue; and the sounds of Flamenco music drifted out of bars at evening.
“Cigars constructed this metropolis,” says Ybor Metropolis historic district ambassador Bob Alorda. “Dad and mom would train younger youngsters to roll cigars at kitchen tables as a result of they wished their children to know the neighborhood commerce.”
Pockets of Ybor Metropolis’s historical past stay. Roosters nonetheless roam the streets cackling at daybreak. La Segunda Bakery nonetheless bakes do-it-yourself Cuban bread as they did in 1915. A pink, white and inexperienced flag nonetheless waves outdoors the Italian membership, and patrons nonetheless cease by the Columbia Restaurant for a cup of espresso as they did in 1905. However the neighborhood’s quite a few cigar factories have all been torn down or transformed into different companies, aside from one—El Reloj.
Recognition of cigarettes over cigars, the Nice Despair and the rise of manufacturing unit machines started the gradual decline of the cigar trade within the Nineteen Thirties. The Cuban embargo of 1962 dealt a closing blow to the cigar trade shutting most of Ybor Metropolis’s factories. Tampa’s city renewal undertaking in 1965 ushered within the destruction of blocks of factories to make means for a brand new freeway and developments.
In 1952, the J.C. Newman Cigar Firm purchased the Regensburg Cigar Manufacturing facility and moved its operation from Cleveland, Ohio to Tampa. At the moment it isn’t solely the final remaining cigar manufacturing manufacturing unit in Tampa, however it’s the solely surviving conventional cigar firm from the early 1900s in your complete United States. Simply over 150 workers handcraft 12 million cigars a yr from the historic manufacturing unit.
“At the moment, everybody whose household has lived in Tampa for just a few generations had kin who rolled cigars, made cigar bins, ready meals for cigar staff or had been related to the cigar trade in another means,” says Drew Newman, fourth-generation proprietor and common counsel. “Cigars are an essential a part of the cultural material and historical past of Tampa.”
Realizing they’d the final remaining cigar manufacturing unit in Tampa, the Newman household believed it was their duty to maintain the town’s historic cigar-making custom alive and share it with future generations.
Structural enhancements to the clock tower, the conversion of a 2,000-square-foot storage space into a conventional hand-rolling station, and the restoration of tile, paneling and flooring to its unique setting had been all a part of the latest multi-million greenback renovation.
The museum begins on the manufacturing unit’s first flooring the place historic relics from the early days of the cigar trade like a mason jar humidifier are on show. From there, a docent-led tour guides guests via the three-story working manufacturing unit.
The 75-minute tour begins within the basement as guests are led via the getting old room, a climate-controlled area maintained at 64 % humidity the place piles of Cameroon leaf and Pennsylvania broadleaf tobacco age for 3 years. The final pre-embargo bale of Cuban tobacco in the USA from the 1958 harvest sits untouched on a cart within the nook of the basement.
The tour continues via the second-story manufacturing unit flooring the place the sound of creaky picket flooring offers technique to the fixed buzz of 90-year-old machines at work. Staff sit at pea inexperienced machines stretching tobacco leaves over metallic molds to chop out perfectly-shaped cigar wrappers. The machines are so previous that Newman employs mechanics particularly to maintain their 10,000 transferring components in prime form. If components are wanted, the mechanics recreate them because the producers of the items are lengthy gone.
Whereas nearly all of the cigars are made by machine, three hand rollers work on the manufacturing unit’s prime flooring rolling the corporate’s premium cigars. The ground has an area the place a lector, within the early 1900s, would learn a wide range of texts from traditional literature to the day by day newspaper to maintain staff entertained whereas working. Texts had been learn in Spanish, English and Italian, which is why most of the staff had been trilingual regardless of receiving little formal schooling. It is usually the rationale many cigar manufacturers had been named after characters in traditional literature like Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and Sancho Panza.
“America has a wealthy custom of cigar making that dates again to the primary crop of tobacco that was grown within the Virginia colony in 1612,” says Newman. “My purpose is to proceed our household legacy of handcrafting premium cigars in the USA and to maintain the custom of American cigar making alive. We now have an genuine American story, and I wish to inform it.”
Whereas the cigar making course of has not modified a lot since its inception, the Newman household desires to include Cuban tobacco again into their cigars.
J.C. Newman just lately filed a petition with the U.S. Division of State requesting the authorization to import tobacco grown from impartial Cuban farmers, explains Newman. If granted, J.C. Newman would be the first importer of Cuban tobacco in 60 years.
“We acquired constructive information from each the U.S. and Cuban governments that they had been contemplating our request to import uncooked tobacco leaves from impartial Cuban farms in order that we are able to hand roll them into cigars at El Reloj, identical to my great-grandfather and grandfather used to do previous to the embargo,” Newman says.