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The Flower City: Rochester Nurserymen of the Forties

The Flower City: Center of Nurseries and Fruit Orchards 

Augusta Rose

Part IV: Rochester Nurserymen of the Forties

By BLAKE MCKELVEY

reprinted with permission** from
The Rochester Historical Society © 1940

Horticultural developments were the order of the day about Rochester during the forties.  Several poor wheat seasons, the spread of the midge, and the turning of Rochester millers to the wheat fields of the West for supply marked the decline of wheat culture in the Genesee Country.  Hervey Ely, Rochester’s oldest miller, described the situation in 1844 in a brief sentence: “The average yield is now not over ten bushels per acre on lands [in the Genesee Country] which twenty years ago freely yielded twenty.” Various remedies were advanced, including the rotation of crops, the use of fertilizer, the provision of agricultural schools, the increased use of stock, the introduction of machinery, and the development of commercial fruit orchards.  It was in the last of these directions that the most remarkable strides were made in Monroe and neighboring counties, partially because of the fact that the rapid development of transport facilities in the Northwest, while it clogged the local wheat market, opened new outlets for fruit.  The nurserymen of Rochester helped to foster and were in turn fostered by this trend.

Ads from the October 1841New Genesee FarmerDocumenting the Creation ofThe Crossman Seed Co.Click for More

Ads from the October 1841
New Genesee Farmer
Documenting the Creation of
The Crossman Seed Co.
Click for More

The rapid increase in the number of Rochester nurseries is best revealed by their advertisements.  When Bateham joined with others in the publication of the New Genesee Farmer he advertised for a partner for his seed business and soon allied himself with Charles F. Crosman, formerly a peddler of seed grown in a Shaker community in Columbia County.  They developed a “seed garden” on Monroe Street [where Crosman Terrace is now located], but a year later the partners severed their relations, Crosman taking the garden and Bate-ham the seed store.  In November, 1842, Bateham sold the store to Crosman and the Genesee Farmer to Henry Coleman, former editor of the New England Farmer,  departing for Ohio where he founded the Ohio Cultivator.  Meanwhile Asa Rowe’s twenty-acre nursery and adjoining one hundred-acre farm on Rowe Street [present Lexington Avenue] in Greece passed through several hands until,  late in 1843,  Charles Powis bought it for sixty-five hundred dollars and renamed it the Monroe Garden and Nursery.  A year or so before,  Electus Boardman converted a fruit orchard one mile out Main Street (East Avenue just beyond Goodman) into a nursery , advertising young apple,  peach, and locust trees for sale.  In 1844 Josiah Bissell and Horace Hooker,  old established residents of the city,  bought out Boardman’s fifteen and a half-acre nursery for eight thousand dollars and established the Rochester Commercial Nursery which soon became a thriving enterprise.

The Story of Early Rochester Nurseries as played out by Ads from the 1845 Genesee Farmer. Click for more.

The Story of Early Nurseries as played out in Ads from the 1845 Genesee Farmer. Click for more.

Samuel Moulson’s Old Rochester Nursery on his fifty-acre farm at the northeastern edge of the city was already in a thriving state when he opened a seed store on Front Street.  This latter street had become by the mid-forties the center of the seed trade as four different firms,  notably Rapalje and Briggs,  located there.  Charles Powis, following the example of Asa Rowe and Ellwanger and Barry,  issued a fruit catalogue in 1844,  an action soon followed by Moulson as well as Bissell and Hooker.  The Rochester and Charlotte Plank Road Nursery,  established by C. J. Ryan west of the river three miles north of the city late in the decade, and William King’s nursery on Mount Hope,  within a stone’s throw of Ellwanger and Barry,  both specialized in flowers for local consumption,  although the former soon developed a fruit department.

Dwarf Bush Apple

Dwarf Bush Apple; Illustration from “Barry’s Fruit Garden”
(Click for More)

In the midst of this remarkable development of their trade,  Ellwanger and Barry retained undisputed leadership.  They were by all standards the most skilled nurserymen in the city and soon established a reputation for an accurate listing of their specimens,  a scrupulous selection of only the hardy graftings, bulbs, and plants for sale, a careful packing for shipment, and prompt delivery.  They quickly developed the most extensive assortment of varieties, and by the late forties their annual displays at the state and local fairs regularly captured a generous share of the prizes offered for fruit and flowers.  Shortly after Ellwanger’s return from Europe the Mount Hope Nursery was the first to introduce dwarf fruit trees into America, urging that orchardists replace their old, wide-spreading trees,  which had consumed most of their fruitfulness in building useless wood,  with new plantings and graftings which would give a larger return in fruit.

Barry's Fruit Garden"Frontpiece: Plan for Fruit Garden.

From “Barry’s Fruit Garden”
Frontpiece: Plan for Fruit Garden. Click for More

A scientific,  commercial pomology was the objective of Ellwanger and Barry,  and they missed no opportunity to encourage its spread.  Patrick Barry took the post of editor of the Horticultural Department of the Genesee Farmer in and continued there for eight years.  When the Agricultural School established in 1846 by Daniel Lee and General Rawson Harmon on the latter’s farm in Wheatland began to disintegrate after the first season, Ellwanger and Barry attempted, unfortunately without success, to transfer the enterprise to the site of their botanic garden.  That same year, 1847,  the nursery presented fifty shade trees to the city for planting in Mount Hope Cemetery,  a gesture designed to encourage the city to persist in its efforts to improve an already famous cemetery.  The next year the two partners played a leading role in the organization of both the American Congress of Fruits Growers in New York City and of the North American Pomological Convention in Buffalo, and through their efforts the two societies were later united.  Later that year Barry in his turn journeyed through Europe, visiting all the leading nurserymen, and studying in particular their methods of pruning for fruitfulness. Shortly after his return he began the writing of his volume on The Fruit Garden,  published in 1851. The city as well as its agricultural hinterland was blossoming forth with a new and fragrant verdure.  One observer in 1843 reported the city’s appearance as “highly creditable to the refinement and taste of its citizens; the streets are tastefully adorned with rows of forest trees; around the dwellings as a general thing the little gardens and door-yards are tastefully filled with shrubs and plants … Several gentlemen are now planting and preparing gardens for fruits and vegetables, and ornamental trees and plants, that, when completed, will stand unsurpassed.”  Among the estates that especially attracted attention at the half-century were those of Aaron Erickson on Main Street (East Avenue),  Major John Williams near Brown’s Square, and D. W. Powers on Exchange Street.  Erickson frequently appeared with other Rochesterians among the amateur prize winners at the state fairs, while the garden of Daniel W. Powers attracted detailed description:

D. W. Powers … on the west bank of the Genesee, has a charming little place.  His grounds — about an acre — is almost in the form of a semi-circle.  The house stands well back from the street, and the ground in front, the width of the house,  is laid out in beds, filled with ornamental trees, shrubs and plants — and all edged with dwarf box,  clipped and kept in perfect order;  indeed, altogether the best specimens of box edging around Rochester. On either side of these beds is a well kept, pretty lawn.  In our opinion Mr. Powers made a mistake in planting too many standard fruit trees,  and making too many straight walks; but these blemishes are diminished by the general good keeping.  He has recently erected, in connection with the dwelling, a beautiful little green house. … Mr. Powers’ is a place that our citizens may point to with pride and pleasure. from Genesee Farmer, June 1848, page 161

← Back: Part III George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry
Next: 
Part V Horticultural Leadership  →

“The Flower City” originally appeared: The Rochester  Historical Society * Publications * XVIII; Edited by Blake McKelvey; Published by the Society: Rochester , New York; © 1940 Used with Permission ; All Inquiries Regarding Use or Reprint should be directed to The Rochester Historical Society.
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