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The Death and Life of James Vick

May 16, 2013
Portrait of  James Vick

Portrait of James Vick

While contemporary, and later, biographical sketches exist  that detail more on the life and industry of James Vick (some of these profiles are coming to this scrapbook),  this entry is taken from the June 1882 issue of Vick’s Monthly Illustrated Magazine.  Vick’s magazine was perhaps the most beautiful and copious of the many 19th Horticulural and Gardening journals that were centered in Rochester, and the importance of Vick and his successors to the growth of the reputation of “The Flower City”‘ should be underst00d.  Although, the Vick Seed Company had several impressive rivals even in Rochester, such as the Crosman Seed and Joseph Harris, in its standing, as to planting seed, the company’s influence was similar to Ellwanger & Barry’s  was to Trees, Shrubs and Roses…during parts of the 1880s, Vick may have been the most famous Seed Company in the Eastern US.   The hundreds of thousands of subscribers to the magazine certainly helped with that notoriety. The article we are reproducing is more like a eulogy than a death notice and,  like a contemporary memorial service, includes a poem and a lament as well as details on the passing of one of Rochester’s most charismatic citizens within the city’s expansive Botanical Industries of the nineteenth century.

A Card.

In view of the sad event elsewhere announced, we, the undersigned, sons of James Vick, would acquaint the many former friends and patrons of our revered father, and the public generally, that the business he has established will be continued by us in all its branches under the firm name of James Vick. With the intention and determination that the business shall have all the careful management and be controlled by the same honorable principles that have heretofore distinguished it, we cordially solicit a continuance of the patronage it has so long enjoyed. James Vick, Frank H. Vick, Charles H. Vick, E. Coleston Vick.


Tuesday morning, May i6th, the sun shines brightly; it is a pleasant spring morning, and nature wears a lovely aspect. But our grounds appear deserted by workmen. Entering the seed-house all is quiet; the noise of the engine, with its regular beat as it is accustomed to throb its vivifying power through the long lines of machinery is, no longer heard; the printing presses are still, there is no click of type at the compositors’ cases, no one is in attendance in the stock rooms; only a bookkeeper is seen in the office, a clerk in the mailing department, and one or two young ladies who will be engaged in the order room an hour or two attending to the more urgent demands.  Why this unusual appearance?  In the dwelling yonder lies, in the stillness of death, all that is mortal of Mr. Vick!  His work is done.  Quietly attentive to his ordinary duties he remained at his post until five days of his decease.  On Thursday, the nth instant, he vacated his place and remained in the house, supposing he was suffering from a cold that was more than ordinarily severe, and that he would be out again in a day or two at most.  The disease progressing, and its effects weakening him, the next day he took to his bed, from which he never rose. On Saturday his physician, without informing him of the real nature of his attack, announced to the family that it was pneumonia, and that his case was critical.

Tree Peony "Painted for Vick"

Tree Peony “Painted for Vick”

The progress of the disease henceforward was without intermission until he passed away, at twenty minutes past seven this morning.  He was conscious during the whole of his illness, but hopeful of his recovery until the last hours; then, realizing all, when informed that no help could be given him, he remarked: “The Lord’s will be done.”  Except the difficulty in breathing, he had comparatively little pain until the last twelve hours, and this was greatly mitigated by the ministrations of his physicians.  Last night, near midnight, he recognized all the members of his family and those of his immediate friends who were present, calling most of them by name.  He was in the sixty-fourth year of his age, having been born in November,1818. His birthplace was Chichester, near Portsmouth, England, but this has been his country from boyhood.  Mr. Vick’s life and habits have been so well known to most of our readers that we do not hesitate to place before them thus explicitly the particulars of his last hours. He was a bright, cheerful Christian, not in name only, but by that sterling test, love for his fellow men.  A desire to help others was always one of the governing motives of his actions.  He was regarded by those in his employ more as a brother, or a father, than as in the ordinary relation of an employer; and whenever, in any department of the extended business, any difficulty or misunderstanding would arise, it was sure to be amicably and satisfactorily adjusted when referred directly to him; and to-day there are no more sincere mourners of his loss than those who have been longest in his service.

Vick Seed Store Front

Vick Seed Store Front – Early 1870s

His cheerfulness, mirthfulness, and sociability, together with his genuine goodness, endeared him to a host of personal friends.  The geniality and humanity of his soul was manifest as much in his business relations as elsewhere, and, if we may judge by the letters of his correspondents, those who knew him only through his publications felt the magic of his poetic temperament and goodness of heart, and came to regard him as a friend and faithful counselor rather than as a tradesman.

Front and Back of Trade Card

Front and Back of Trade Card

His life habits of untiring industry would not allow him to entertain any thoughts of rest, although for a long time it had been apparent to those about him that such was the absolute demand of nature, if his life was to continue long.  Almost by force he was persuaded, last summer, to take a trip to Europe, but it was made in as short a time as possible, in order that he might return and take up his work afresh.  The trip in a measure invigorated him, and he thought and acted as if he were ready for any task.  All through the fall, winter and spring he has been at his desk with clock-work regularity, and when he last laid down his pen he was executing business improvements and projecting plans of future enterprises. The survivors of his immediate family are a widow, three daughters, and four sons. As all our readers are well aware,  Mr. Vick was a genuine lover of flowers, and his business pursuit was the result of his horticultural tastes, and no doubt his success was in a great measure due to the fact that his heart was in it.  His love of children was very strong, and influenced him constantly for their welfare.  He was engaged in Sunday School work all his life, as teacher and superintendent, and it may be safely said that to-day thousands remember him in these relations.  His home was his life, where he enjoyed the society of his family and friends, and here were found evidences of his love of plants and flowers, of music, painting, and pets.  Our personal intimacy and familiar intercourse with him will be regarded as a life blessing. A Letter from Aunt Marjorie. As it has been customary for years for Mr. Vick to receive letters from persons whom he never saw, expressing a sense of personal acquaintance, we know that the beautiful letter below will represent the sentiments of very many, and that is sufficient excuse for the publication of what might otherwise be considered a private communication. Our gifted correspondent, ” Aunt Marjorie,” here voices the thoughts and feelings of thousands in all parts of the country who only knew him in business relations.

To His Friends: After days of cloudy, dripping skies came a morning so bright that the world seemed all aglow, and pulsing nature jubilant with mankind, when the eye fell upon a paragraph holding a shadow that no sun-rays can ever penetrate, and which suddenly darkened a thousand homes. And if a thousand, what of the one? and the immediate circle of homes about that one?  O, what a blank is left when such a man as he suddenly lays down all, and steps over the boundary! But there are consolations. His life was well rounded up with years, and those years a benison to all within reach of his life-work; which was in itself a beneficence, already acknowledged as such. As to such a man’s future, what can it be, except just what he would most desire? Therefore she, who must miss him more than all, cannot fail to be comforted with those words which never grow old with time, nor meaningless with repetition. “Be not troubled, neither be afraid; in my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you.” Many of us feel the personal interest of a near friend, tho’ conscious of no rights to question or inquire beyond what all the world may know in due season. And this is but another proof of the place he held in the hearts of unknown friends, among whom the’ writer must claim to have been one. With sincerest sympathy, added to a sense of personal grief and loss, I remain most truly, M. M. B.,                      Richmond, Ind., May 18

The following stanza, by Mr. William Lyle.and published in an evening journal in this city, is one of tile many pleasant remembrances received by the family:

The Flower Lover Suggested by the death of Mr. James Vick.

Dead with the odor of flowers about him, Leaving a name even sweeter than those! Take comfort, ye hearts so lonely without him. Life must be well that hath peace at its close.

Early Spring Flowers - from Vick's  Magazine 1882

Early Spring Flowers – from Vick’s Magazine 1882

As soon as Mr. Vick’s death was made known, a meeting of the seedsmen of this city was held, and resolutions passed appropriate to the sad event; among others it was decided that they close their respective places of business on the day of his burial and attend the funeral in a body.  Our space will not admit the publication of the resolutions in full, nor of others by other societies and associations. The funeral service was held on Friday afternoon, the 19th ult., at the First Methodist Church. The chancel and the organ were heavily draped in black, and the floral offerings were numerous and beautiful. The eulogy pronounced by Rev. Dr. Stratton met hearty response and approval by all present.  At its close, an opportunity being offered to see the familiar face the last time, the people in the aisles of the church, which were closely filled, passed through in procession, and these were followed by an immense throng of those who could not previously gain admission; after an hour’s passage of the procession it was obliged to be stopped.  This was the unspoken eulogy of the people. At the beautiful cemetery of Mount Hope, when the sun was low in the west, the burial service read, the casket was lowered into a flower-lined grave.

Vick's Magazine Header

Vick’s Magazine Header

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