Volume XXXV • 1982
From the Genesee to the World
--DIANE HOLAHAN GROSSO
Two births recorded in 1816, one in a small German village near Wurtenberg and the other on a farm outside of Belfast, Ireland, would one day lead to the establishment of the largest horticultural enterprise in the United States, one famous throughout the world during a good part of the nineteenth century.
George Ellwanger, a German Lutheran, was born in the village of Gross-Heppach, in the beautiful Reims Valley. His father was a vineyardist and the young boy assisted him whenever possible. He attended local schools until the age of 14. During those years he came to realize that southern Germany was impoverished by France under Napoleon's rule and that he would have to leave the area if he were to achieve financial success. Later he was to write in his autobiography: "In reading papers on America my attention was drawn at an early date to that land of promise beyond the sea, and I accordingly resolved, as soon as possible to emigrate thither, to try my fortune for myself."
With this as his goal Ellwanger apprenticed himself to the best horticultural establishment in Stuttgart so that he could learn the nursery and florist business. He agreed to work for four years from sunup to sundown and for this training he was to pay $40. In 1835, after completing his contract, he left Stuttgart for the United States, and on June 24, after spending 62 days aboard a sailing vessel, he landed at Staten Island.
Ellwanger set out for Tiffin, Ohio, to join an uncle who was residing there. After travelling up the Hudson he boarded a canal boat to continue his journey on the Erie Canal. In describing a portion of that trip he wrote: "In passing through Rochester a halt was made to unload some freight, which gave me an opportunity to inspect the then infant city on the Genesee whose appearance impressed me strongly, especially its luxuriant vegetation and its favorable location for a horticultural establishment. The Erie Canal, moreover, made it a highway to the west."
After spending the summer in Ohio, he borrowed a horse from his uncle, and in September of 1835, speaking little English, returned to the small village on the Genesee, in Monroe County, New York State.
Patrick Barry, an Irish Roman Catholic, was born in 1816, a few months before George Ellwanger. His parents owned a farm near Belfast. He attended local public schools until the age of 18 and then became a teacher in one of the Irish national schools.
After two years of teaching he became restless, and at the age of 20 left Ireland and sailed for New York . Soon after his arrival he secured a position as clerk with the well-established Prince Nursery in Flushing, Long Island. He remained there four years, learning all phases of the horticultural and nursery business.
In April of 1840 there appeared on the back page of the Genesee Farmer an ad which read
A Partner WantedAn experienced nurseryman, who has already a good Green House and Young Nursery, where there is an excellent chance for an extensive business, wishes to form a co-partnership with some person who can invest a few hundred dollars to increase the concern, and who would be willing to devote his attention to the business. Enquire at the Rochester Seed Store.
It is not known if Patrick Barry read the Genesee Farmer. However, in May 1840, Barry became the partner of the author of the advertisement, George Ellwanger, and together they were to become close friends, co-leaders in the life of the Rochester, New York, community, and horticulturists with a world-renowned reputation.
The horticultural story of the Genesee region began long before this association was formed. Although the original economic base of the area was wheat growing, there had been fruit trees from an early period. The journals and reports from the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition of 1779 told of apple, peach, and cherry orchards in the Seneca villages. The first settlers planted gardens and orchards, and Colonel Nathaniel Rochester had apple and peach trees on his property in Rochesterville. The earliest indication we have of agricultural items being sold in Rochester comes from an advertisement in The Rochester Telegraph for December 20, 1820, announcing that Everard Peck had vegetable seed for sale at his bookstore on Sophia Street. By this date a few nurseries had been established from the Hudson River to the Niagara Frontier. During the late 1820's horticultural fairs were held in Lyons and Canandaigua, and in 1830 the Monroe County Horticultural Society was founded.
In January 1831, Luther Tucker, the editor of the Rochester Daily Advertiser, published the first issue of theGenesee Farmer, a weekly newspaper that was to be a journal of agricultural information and reform. The opening paragraphs of the issue set the tone of the paper.
No part of the world is more richly blessed with soil and climate for a great and flourishing Agricultural and Horticultural interest than the western part of the state of New York-that part called OLD GENESEE. . . This section of country has become densely populated with an industrious and thriving class of citizens, who have made themselves rich by their own labors and who have now acquired the time and means of being theoretically and practically learned in the arts of cultivating scientifically the soil they have so lately reclaimed from the wilderness and prepared for the highest state of Agriculture. (Genesee Farmer, January 1, 1831)
The Farmer published information of all branches of farming and animal husbandry and of new developments in breeds of stock and varieties of fruit trees. Wheat growing was given attention in the early issues, but the culture of grapes and mulberries was also emphasized. In 1832 Tucker prophesied that the Genesee country would become the grape-growing center of the nation. Temperance in the 1830's was not equated with total abstinence from alcohol, given the state of the water supply. The campaign was against whiskey and other hard liquors, so the editor urged supporters of "true temperance" to grow grapes and make wine.
The Genesee Farmer also plunged into the silkworm craze, which had begun in 1825 with the importation of a new mulberry variety reputed to be the very same grown by the Chinese to feed their silkworms. Silk culture was not a new idea in this country. As early as 1623 the settlers of Virginia had attempted to raise mulberry trees and silkworms, but to no avail. It was generally thought that the fault lay with the variety of mulberry, and the importation of the new morus Multicaulis began an era of excitement and speculation. The Prince Nursery began the propagation of the new mulberry, and the New York State legislature joined other official bodies in encouraging the trade by offering financial assistance to nurserymen willing to grow the trees.
The Genesee Farmer reported that in 1832 the town of Windham, Connecticut, had produced $35,000 worth of raw silk. It was argued that Rochester had all the agricultural advantages of southern France and could easily equal that region in mulberry tree cultivation. By the mid-1830's the craze was rampant. In every issue of theFarmer there were articles on the raising of silkworms as well as reports of great success stories of individual growers. Farmers were encouraged to write reports of their financial gains and expectations, and the paper predicted that "soon every farmer's wife and daughter will be adorned in silk dresses."
In the Genesee Farmer of February 7, 1835, we read:
If ye aspire to wealth and ease
Stock well your farm with mulberry trees
The silk worm will their worth unfold
And coin their foliage into gold.
It was estimated that on one acre of mature mulberry trees, 40,000 pounds of silk could be produced for a profit of $8,600 after expenses. One advantage was that much of the work could be done by women and children, tapping a reservoir of labor and actually increasing farm production. In reality, most of the money was made by those selling the trees and silkworm eggs, rather than by the actual producers of silk.
It was during these years that the first nurseries in Rochester were established. Naaman Goodsell, the editor of the Genesee Farmer, started a five-acre nursery in 1832 at Buffalo and Sophia streets (now Main Street and Plymouth Avenue). One year later, in the village of Greece, Asa Rowe cultivated a 20-acre nursery that offered fruit trees, ornamentals, shrubs, grape vines, and flowers, and in 1836 Rowe's Monroe Garden and Nursery issued a 46-page catalogue. Meanwhile, Goodsell sold his nursery in 1834 to William Reynolds and Michael Bateham, who called the business the Rochester Seed Store and Horticultural Repository.
The young nurseries were deeply involved with the silkworm excitement, and they advertised large stocks of silkworm eggs and mulberry tree cuttings. The craze had run its course by 1844, but the actual end in Rochester came in the Winter of 1835-36. The mulberry trees were not as hardy as had been supposed, and a severe early snowstorm on October 8, 1836, destroyed most of the mulberry trees in the Genesee region. Heavy, wet snow fell on the full-foliaged trees, stripping the branches and cracking the main trunks. The long hard winter completed the damage.
To add to the woe, a blight known as the yellows appeared which attacked peach trees and wiped out more of the nursery stock. The economy was depressed, money was scarce, and local competition was becoming stiff. Reynolds decided to withdraw from the business. Michael Bateham was more interested in the seed store in the Arcade, where he sold tools and agricultural books as well as seed, so he attempted to sell the nursery in 1838.
In the fall of 1836, while the outlook still seemed rosy, Reynolds and Bateham employed the young German horticulturist George Ellwanger as foreman in charge of the nursery. Because he was not successful in selling the nursery, Bateham readily accepted an offer in early 1839 from his foreman to lease the nursery land and purchase the remaining stock and equipment. Although the immediate outlook was not good, George Ellwanger must have known that the time was right to begin his great enterprise.
Thomas Rogers, a mulberry tree salesman from the East Coast, became his partner, and together they established the Ellwanger and Rogers Nursery. They purchased eight acres of land on State Road for $1,995. On March 24, 1839, they recorded their first order: two primroses, one hyacinth, one hydrangea, one verbena, and one sweet marjoram.
This partnership lasted a little over a year. In the spring of 1840 George Ellwanger bought out his partner for $200 and within two months had formed the partnership with Patrick Barry. They purchased seven acres of land on Mt. Hope Avenue (where the Patrick Barry House now stands) from Harvey Gilman for a $500 downpayment and a $1,400 mortgage. They named their business The Mount Hope Botanical and Pomological Gardens and announced to the world the program which they were to follow for the next 50 years.
MOUNT HOPE GARDEN & NURSERIES.
ROCHESTER, NEW YORK.
East side of St. Paul-street, nearly opposite Mount Hope. The subscribers offer for sale a fine collection of Fruit and Ornamental Trees, Flowering Shrubs, Green House and Hardy Herbaceous Plants, Bulbous Flower Roots, Double Dahlias, etc. etc. Orders sent per mail or otherwise will be promptly attended to, and all articles will be packed so that they can be transported safely to any part of the country. Gardens laid out and skillful gardeners furnished at short notice. Persons wishing assortments of any of the above articles to sell again will be supplied on very reasonable terms.
They would also inform the public that they are now removing their establishment from Buffalo and Sophia streets to the Garden as above, where they have new and more extensive Green Houses almost completed.
This establishment is intended to supply the Western States and Canada, with all articles in the line of Horticulture, and to prevent that delay and disappointment which almost invariably occur in obtaining them from the east; and in a short time, as soon as Trees, Plants, etc., can be arranged, a regular Botanical and Pomological Garden will be formed of which due notice will be given to the public so that they may visit and inspect it.
Prices in all cases will be as moderate as at any other establishment in the country, and no fruit of inferior or doubtful quality will be cultivated.
ELLWANGER & BARRY
Rochester, N. Y.
Sept. 1, 1840.
N.B. A quantity of Morus Multicaulis and Moretti, will be disposed of on favorable terms.
(Genesee Farmer, September 1840)
The location of a nursery in Rochester had advantages over other areas for transportation and climate. The location right on the Erie Canal meant that Rochester had an eight-day advantage over the East Coast competitors in supplying the new orchards and nurseries to the west. When large orders for the nursery were purchased abroad, the canal also provided an inexpensive and direct route to Rochester. The port on Lake Ontario was only a few miles away, and steamboats could deliver orders to major Canadian markets.
The completion of the Albany and Buffalo Railroad in the late 40's provided more speed and flexibility in shipping orders east and west. Packet boats travelled at approximately four-and-one-half miles per hour, but only during seasons when the canal was not frozen. By rail packages could reach Buffalo in five to six hours throughout the year. At Buffalo an agent was in charge of routing the packages westward, either by lake steamer or railroad.
The climate of the Rochester area was moderated by Lake Ontario and was less extreme than around Albany or in the Hudson Valley. Winters were not as cold, and there was little chance of summer drought.
Another reason for the success of the nursery was the effort made to obtain a good stock of proven trees and shrubs from reliable dealers in the East and Europe. George Ellwanger travelled to the Continent in January 1844 and returned with thousands of trees and single specimens from which to propagate. The newspapers also began to report as early as 1848 that the traffic was beginning to go in the other direction.
[Patrick Barry] goes thither to make collections to their already established nursery. He takes some of the fruits of Western New York for exhibition, including the Northern Spy apples and 500 of the trees for dissemination. May gentle breezes waft him over the waters and return him safely in the spring. (Rochester Daily Democrat, November 1848)
In later years George Ellwanger stated that the effort to found a complete collection of fruit trees at the nursery was the wisest investment he ever made.
The partners steadily increased their acreage, always expanding away from the city toward areas where land would be less expensive. In 1841 another $500 downpayment and $2,500 mortgage added a portion of Aaron Erickson's land to the nursery. They paid their bills promptly and terms became easier. In 1846 they purchased a portion of the James Hawks farm on Mt. Hope and leased another part for $40 per acre for five years. This brought their total acreage to 43.
In the increased area, they developed their model arboretum where visitors could examine the products. They also stocked mature trees for grafting purposes. They kept detailed records of each variety and so were able to obtain accurate knowledge concerning their fruit trees. Accuracy in labelling meant that plants purchased from Ellwanger and Barry were always true to name and reliable in performance.
In addition, George Ellwanger brought knowledge and training in the superior European horticultural techniques and methods. He felt that soil condition was the most important factor in establishing a successful nursery. The soil should be plowed to a depth of 20 to 24 inches and, if necessary, trenched and drained so that it would not retain excessive moisture. He later stated that there were 70 miles of tiles in the underdraining in the Mount Hope Nursery. Skill in pruning and grafting were also important.
Ellwanger and Barry used every method to extend their influence and reputation throughout the country. They travelled, employed agents to sell nursery stock on commission, and opened branches. In October 1844, they opened a branch in West Toronto with George Leslie, an established seedsman, as partner, and 10 years later opened a branch in Columbus with Michael Bateham.
They exhibited regularly at the agricultural fairs, and won medals and prizes from the beginning. The first recognition came in October 1840, when they won the prizes for the best dahlias and best bouquet of cut flowers at the newly organized Genesee Agricultural Fair.
They also began to produce catalogues. In 1843 the firm issued its first publication, entitled Annual Catalogue of Fruit and Ornamental Trees, Flowering Shrubs and Plants, Bulbous Flower Roots, Green-House Plants, etc. , Cultivated and for Sale at the Mt. Hope Botanic Garden and Nursery, Ellwanger & Barry, Proprietors.
The 60-page catalogue listed 94 varieties of apples at 25¢ each, 29 varieties of pears at 50¢ each, nine varieties of apricots at 37½¢ each, 53 varieties of forest trees, ornamental shrubs and perennials, daylilies, and hundreds more. Names that are familiar to us are the Baldwin, Greening, Jonathan, and 20 oz. apples, the Crawford peach, Isabella and Catawba grapes, and Damson plum. In the preface the owners stated:
The grounds now devoted to the growth of trees, shrubs, etc. embrace about fourteen acres, closely planted, more than half of which will be in a disposable state next season; and nearly the whole compactly planted with the choicest varieties of fruit and ornamental trees. . . . We shall endeavor to make the garden an agreeable place of resort for visitors, during the summer season particularly, and being located nearly opposite the celebrated Mt. Hope Cemetery, both places can be visited at the same time.
Their efforts to make the Mount Hope Nursery an attractive and enjoyable place for people to visit were seconded by D. M. Dewey, the editor of the Rochester Directory. The Directory for 1844 had the following notice under "Curiosities of Rochester, and Places of Amusement":
MOUNT HOPE BOTANIC GARDEN AND NURSERY
Is on South St. Paul-street, a few rods north of the main entrance to Mount Hope Cemetery. The proprietors have laid out an extensive flower garden, fronting upon the street, through which, by a sort of labyrinthine walk, visitors make their way to the magnificent green-house in the rear. In the green-house and grounds are cultivated all varieties of plants, natives not only of America, but of Europe, Asia, and Africa, together with all the varieties of fruit-trees that flourish in our climate. The torrid, temperate, and frigid zones, the blooming orange groves of the South, and the frozen regions of the North, all pay tribute here. The votaries of Flora seldom let an opportunity pass of calling upon the proprietors, Messrs. Ellwanger & Barry, and enjoying their polite attentions. The nursery and garden contain fourteen acres of ground. At the entrance is a saloon, where refreshments can be procured at all seasons.
The saloon alluded to in the last sentence was truly temperate, for in a cash book for 1841 is an entry for $60 paid to Swan and Wells for a soda fountain and an additional $17.87 for syrups and soda.
Ellwanger and Barry did encounter setbacks during their early years, but resilience, determination, and steadfastness seemed to carry them through each crisis. The fledgling nursery suffered a serious setback on August 29, 1841, when a disastrous hailstorm destroyed much of their young growing stock, and the following day a fire gutted their greenhouse and office, where they had their living quarters. In order to raise money to rebuild, they loaded their remaining stock on packet boats and wagons and travelled throughout Western New York selling to whomever would buy.
Potentially more damaging than mere bad weather was a storm that blew up with Andrew Jackson Downing, the proprietor of the well-established Downing Nursery at Newburgh on the Hudson, and also celebrated as the author of the Treatise on the Theory and Practise of Landscape Gardening. For some reason Downing accused Ellwanger and Barry of selling small, inferior stock and employing unfair selling methods. In a letter dated November 28, 1842, George Ellwanger replied to Downing's accusations. After discussing an exchange of trees and the question of market values of stock, he wrote:
We are not much disposed to complain, though we may not receive such fair treatment as we have a right to expect sometimes. But having received such a homily from you on the "golden Rule" & "fair & honorable treatment" we will take the liberty of alluding to the trees we received from you a year ago-we paid you for Apples 2/- Pears 4/- Cherry 4/- Plums 4/-now these trees one & all were certainly the most shabby we have ever seen sent from a nursery. . . . We plant them in order to make [the] best of them; in the best of soils & yet with our favorable season they have made no growth. . . in looking through your nursery we could not find such poor trees.
Ellwanger was not one to retreat in the face of the excitable Downing, and the relationship continued amicably enough until the latter's death in 1852.
As the decades passed, the fame of the nursery grew. Patrick Barry seems to have been a born teacher who found a new classroom in the agricultural world. He wrote for trade journals and spoke before agricultural, horticultural, and pomological societies.
His first known publication was an essay in which he chided the New York State Agricultural Society for not awarding prizes for fruits and specimen trees at the annual fair. (The following year, in Rochester, awards were given for fruits and flowers, as well as for vegetables, grain, and cattle.)
In 1844, Barry became editor of the horticultural department of and wrote a monthly column for the Genesee Farmer, a position he maintained until 1853.
After A. J. Downing's death in 1852, James Vick purchased his penodical, The Horticulturist, brought it to Rochester for two years, and made Patrick Barry the editor of the nationally circulated periodical.
The firm of Ellwanger and Barry was even, for a year, the home of an actual school. In the spring of 1846 Rawson Harmon and Daniel Lee, the editor of the Genesee Farmer, started the Western New York Agricultural School on the Harmon farm in Wheatland, southwest of Rochester. Harmon was in charge of practical work and Lee taught theory. The 20 students studied such subjects as chemistry and its application to farming, botany, surveying, practical farming methods, comparative anatomy, bookkeeping, mathematics, and languages. The tuition of $100 paid for a student's room, washing, lights, firewood, and food. Faced with a deficit, the proprietors applied to the state legislature for assistance, which was denied. Ellwanger and Barry then sponsored it, in 1847, with Patrick Barry taking oven the practical subjects formerly taught by Harmon. The school, unable to attract a sufficient number of boys, died almost immediately.
Patrick Barry took the leadership in organizing growers and farmers in New York State, and in 1855 helped to form in Rochester the Fruit Growers Society in Western New York. This group was renamed in 1870 as the Western New York Horticultural Society and in 1901 as the New York Horticultural Society. Barry was first elected president in 1865, and then from 1871 to 1890 he was annually and unanimously reelected. After his death in 1890, his son William Crawford Barry was elected to succeed him and served until 1915.
Barry was the author of two works which gained a national reputation. The more specialized work was theCatalogue of Fruits, published by the American Pomological Society in 1862 and revised many times thereafter. It was the basic authority for the names and characteristics of all the fruits grown in America.
In the winter of 1850 Barry wrote The Fruit Garden: A Treatise, which was published the following summer by Charles Scribner. "The subject of this," wrote Barry, "is one in which almost all classes of the community are more on less practically engaged and interested. It is the desire of every man, whatever may be his pursuit or condition of life, whether he live in town or country to enjoy fine fruits, to provide them for his family, and, if possible, to cultivate the trees in his own garden with his own hands." Subjects such as soils; manures; propagation; pruning; harvesting; garden design; management of orchards, nurseries, and plantations; and preservation of fruit were all treated in the practical, 389-page text. The final chapter contained a list and description of the best fruit trees to grow. On the last page was a large advertisement for the nursery which listed the following catalogues: "1. A General Descriptive Catalogue, 2. A Wholesale Catalogue, 3. A Catalogue of Select Green House Plants, 4. Special Catalogues of Dahlias, Bedding Plants, Roses, etc." Included in the ad was a notice that 200,000 dwarf fruit trees would be ready for transplanting in the fall of 1851. The book was so well received that it was updated several times and reprinted more than 20 times.
From this book and other records we are able to learn much about the operation of the Mount Hope Nursery. The work at the nursery went on 12 months of the year. Each season about one third of the stock was propagated by budding and two-thirds by grafting. The budding was performed during the summer months, the work of grafting from late fall through February. About 800,000 buddings were performed in the summer of 1859, and Ellwanger was said to have cut each one himself. In the fall, the scions (shoots of the previous year's growth) that were to be used for grafting were cut and stored in the cellar so that when winter arrived they were ready to be grafted to the stock (usually a yearling seedling). An experienced grafter, with the aid of an apprentice, could perform from 1,200 to 1,500 grafts per day. The grafts were stored in boxes of sand until the soil was ready for the spring plants.
Propagating by budding and grafting had many advantages over other methods. Trees grown from seed took from 10 to 15 years before they bore fruit, yet budded or grafted trees produced fruit in four years. One variety of fruit could be budded or grafted to another variety to achieve specific characteristics, such as low-spreading branches or fruit with small pits. Weak trees, such as peach and apricot, if grafted to the strong pear or quince tree, would produce strong trees. Seventy-five percent of all trees propagated by budding and grafting were marketable, as compared to five percent of those grown from seed.
Trees were dug so the lateral roots were not injured. Immediately upon their removal from the ground they were labelled. If large quantities of trees were to be shipped the following procedures were followed: The trees were laid in a single layer on three to four inches of rye straw. Straw was carefully laid between the branches so they would not rub against one another. Damp swamp moss was packed between and around the roots, and this was covered by a thick layer of straw so air could not penetrate. Another layer of trees, if needed, could be packed on top of the first. The entire bundle was covered with another layer of straw, and bass mats were sewed around the bundle. If the trip was going to be a long one, boxes of white wood were made to encase the bundles.
As the nursery grew, sales were usually made by travelling agents, who were either employed by the nursery or by a dealer. The dealers came to the nursery, contracted for a specific number of trees or plants, then hired agents to travel throughout the country to sell the merchandise. When the packing season arrived the dealers would arrive at the nursery with their orders, assist in the processing and packing of the orders, and deliver the orders to the agents, who would deliver them to the customer.
In September and October of each year much attention was given to preparing the Ellwanger and Barry entries in the many horticultural fairs. As stated earlier, they were awarded their first prizes in 1840, and from that year through 1910, they continued to exhibit their fruit and trees in every important competition. The selection and packing of the specimens were done by nursery personnel; however, their agents were responsible for transporting and displaying the material. Whenever possible Ellwanger or Barry would attend, for it was at these fairs that new varieties of fruit were introduced, new horticultural practices were discussed, and orders were taken for the following spring. Many of the county and state fairs were held simultaneously, and hundreds of varieties of fruit trees, flowers, and shrubs were sent to each.
Careful inventories and descriptions of each plant or fruit were recorded in ledgers by the foremen of each department. The entry would usually include a small line drawing, indicate where the fruit or plant was seen, and might read like this one of October 25, 1851: "Pear Beure #5. This is one of the finest pears we have tasted this season. Sweet as honey with a pleasant perfume, skin greenish yellow, spotted with dull brown dots. Occasionally a blush on one side, stalk one inch in length." Within a few years the entries became more standardized, such as this entry in 1859 for a pear: "Bonn d'Ezee; Medium to large, Oblong or oval, stalk one inch, calyz open, shallow, skin, yellowish green with numerous dark spots. Distinct in form and color. Flesh perfectly white, very juicy and refreshing but lacking perfume and high flavor."
The pear was considered to be the most elegant and profitable of all the fruits. In 1835 when Patrick Barry was in Philadelphia he noted that the "Dutchess of Angouleme" pears sold at Isaac Newton's Fruit and Ice Cream Store for $1 each and smaller specimens for $0.75 each. One cultivator of pears wrote Mr. Barry that in 1859 they were able to earn $9,200 per acre from growing pears. Vegetables such as beets, cabbage, and potatoes netted $1,000 per acre in 1860.
The nursery grew rapidly in size, from 43 acres under cultivation in 1846 to 100 acres in 1851, 400 acres in 1856, and more than 500 acres in 1859. By 1871 the nursery expanded to its maximum size of 650 acres.
A visitor to the world-famous Mount Hope Nursery entering from Mt. Hope Avenue would first encounter the handsome Gothic office building. The grounds around the office were planted with thousands of specimen trees, some of which are still growing today. The group of elms included the American, Belgium Blanford, Huntington, Chinese, Camperdown, and English. There were four varieties of beech trees: European Weeping, American, Rivers, and Fernleaf. English and Pyramidal Hornbeams; European, Mongolian, and Crimean Lindens; Japanese Horsechestnuts; Yellowwood trees; Bottlebrush, Buckeye, Maidenhair trees; Kentucky Coffee trees; and the monumental Sugar Maples were some of the specimens growing. Some of the unusual cone-bearing trees were the Western Yellow Pine, Swiss Stone Pine, Creek Fir, Pond Cypress, Bald Cypress, and the giant Sequoias. Running through the specimen grounds west to east was a grass promenade, 10 feet wide and a quarter of a mile long. On either side and stretching the entire length were 10-foot-wide flower borders, planted so they would be in constant bloom from early spring until late fall. Lining the gardens were tall hedges of Spruce, Hemlock, Arbor Vitae, Birch, Privet, and Mahonia. Strolling through this arboretum with its promenade and gardens and visiting Mt. Hope Cemetery were two of the important recreational attractions in Rochester during the summer months.
Behind the hedges and well shielded from view were the many nursery buildings. There were 16 attached greenhouses, laid out in a grid pattern, so that one could walk through them all without ever going out of doors. Barry, in describing his nursery, said, "If all the greenhouses were extended in one continuous line they would stretch for half a mile." There were also carpenter shops, a box factory, horse barns, packing houses, root cellars, equipment sheds, storage sheds, and many temporary structures that were erected each spring and dismantled in the fall.
At its peak the nursery employed between 400 and 500 people during the summer months. The work force was very structured. The general foreman reported directly to Ellwanger or to Barry. He supervised eight assistant foremen, each of whom was responsible for one of the following departments: fruit trees, grapes and small plants, ornamentals, roses, evergreens, perennials and bulbs, the stable, or the work force. Most of the foremen started as apprentices in the early days of the nursery. The office staff handled the advertising, cataloguing, bookkeeping, and financial matters.
By 1860 and for several decades after, Ellwanger and Barry grew more trees and shrubs than any other two nurseries in the land combined. The enterprise was impressive. There were 90 acres in ornamentals, 24 in evergreens, 50 in deciduous trees and shrubs, eight of herbaceous and bulbous plants, five in specimen trees, eight acres of roses, two of weeping trees, and an acre of magnolias. Ellwanger and Barry were also very interested in the development of bush fruits. There were six acres of currants, four acres of gooseberries, three acres of blackberries, and six acres of grapes.
Every year the catalogues were issued, containing practical horticultural information, featuring new varieties of trees and plants, and introducing new growing techniques. In 1860 readers were encouraged to experiment with growing grapes under glass. "Gentlemen having small gardens in the cities find the Grapery within their means and a great source of pleasure, and no respectable suburban or country residence is complete without one." The structures did not have to be fire-heated and required "little work." Forty-nine varieties of foreign grapes, suitable for growing in the Grapery, were offered in the catalogue that year. Growers who had larger amounts of land were urged to build glass "orchard houses" so the Ellwanger and Barry nectarines and apricots could be grown.
The national reputation of the Mount Hope Nursery led to at least one romantic episode. The story has been frequently told of an unsuccessful gold hunter, G. H. Woodruff, who was impressed by the great trees of California. He gathered seeds from the cones of the giant Sequoia, packed them in a snuffbox, and dispatched them to Rochester, where they arrived with $25 postage due. The seeds were planted under glass, transferred to four-inch pots, and eventually grown into seedlings. They were advertised as the "Washingtonia" tree in the United States, but in England and Europe they were renamed "Wellingtonia." For his efforts, Woodruff received $1,030.60 as a share in the profits.
In 1859, 37 of the trees, one for each state in the union, were planted on the grounds of Mt. Vernon. They were widely disseminated throughout England and the milder part of the Continent. Specimens were also planted in Rochester, along Mt. Hope Avenue and on the nursery grounds, where they reached a height of 50 feet. The Sequoia proved not to be hardy enough for Rochester weather, and the last of them died during the 1920's.
The orders for Ellwanger and Barry plant material came from near and far. As new territories were settled in the West, Ellwanger and Barry supplied their orchards and nurseries. Ellwanger, in his autobiography, stated that the original orchards of California were supplied with stock from Mount Hope. Because of Patrick Barry's numerous writings, their frequent trips abroad, and the entries in national and international horticultural competitions, the fine reputation of the nursery became known in foreign lands, and by 1880, 80 percent of the sales were to markets outside the country.
In a memorandum we learn that "in 1872 Ellwanger and Barry shipped to Yokohama a large collection of fruit trees and plants consisting of 100 varieties of apples (standard and dwarf), 75 varieties of pears, 26 of cherries, 14 of plums, 4 of apricots, 6 of nectarines, 10 of currants, 14 of raspberries, 340 of grapes, and 16 varieties of strawberries." Several years later they received a large order from the Japanese government for trees and plants for the Royal Gardens in Tokyo. The selection was left to the judgment of the partners.
During the decade of the 1880's new stock was still being imported from nurseries abroad and new additions were added yearly to the catalogues. Twenty-one new varieties of apples, nine Russian and 12 regular, including for the first time the "Wealthy," were offered in 1884. For the first time one could also send for a "Variegated Tulip Tree," a "Purple Leaved Norway Maple, " and a "Chinese Cork Tree."
The partners did not escape their share of setbacks and tragedies, both public and private. Fire destroyed barns and sheds in 1859, and hailstones the size of hen's eggs demolished the greenhouses in 1871. Barry and Ellwanger children and grandchildren died from the prevailing diseases, especially tuberculosis; George Ellwanger spent most of 1865 travelling in Europe with his wife and sons in order to recover from a total nervous collapse; and even the seemingly indestructible Patrick Barry was forced to winter in Florida in 1871 to benefit his lungs.
George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry had many other interests in Rochester besides their horticultural nursery empire. As the city grew southward, they realized that the oldest parts of the nursery could be subdivided and sold as building land. They entered the real estate business in the 1850's, when they laid out Cypress and Linden streets between Mt. Hope and South avenues and began to build 50 cottages. It was expected that these small homes would be purchased by their workers for $1,800 apiece; this sum, however, proved to be too costly for many of them. They were subsequently rented for very nominal amounts. Larger homes costing up to $2,500 were built on the north side of Linden and on Oakland Park. In all a total of 118 homes were built in the area near Mt. Hope.
Eventually, the Ellwanger and Barry Realty Company subdivided the area to the east of South Avenue, and between S. Clinton Avenue and S. Goodman Street north of Highland Avenue, and from 1900 to 1929 built modest middle-class houses that still stand on the tree-lined streets.
In 1860 they purchased for $37,500 the land on the corner of Main and State streets. A. J. Warner, Rochester's leading architect, was commissioned to design a commercial building for the site. One year later, at a cost of $50,000, a four-story iron and Nova Scotia sandstone building was opened to the public. Rochester rejoiced over the addition of this splendid new building. The floors, each adorned with specimen trees in pots and horticultural displays, were fully occupied with shops and offices.
Public transportation was of great interest to the partners, and in 1863 they helped to establish Rochester's first horse-car line, the Rochester-Brighton Street Railroad. For five cents one could ride from Main and Exchange streets to the Clarissa Street Bridge and along Mt. Hope Avenue to the cemetery and the nursery. The newspapers heralded it as a great advancement for the City of Rochester, and the people flocked to Mt. Hope to stroll and picnic in the gardens. Soon, however, the street railway became plagued by the same woes public transit suffers today- a lack of passengers and unreliable schedules-and after four years the company closed. It was reorganized in the next decade, and soon tracks ran to all areas of the city.
Both men became leaders in civic affairs and contributed generously of their time and money to their churches and other charitable causes. They became known as astute business leaders and were eagerly sought after for boards of banks and local companies.
In 1856 they joined with several other businessmen to found the Flour City Bank, which ultimately became, after many mergers and name changes, the Lincoln First Bank, N.A.
One issue brought together all their varied interests.
For many years George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry were concerned about the lack of public park lands where the families of Rochester could relax and enjoy nature. City officials twice, in 1882 and 1883, refused their offer to donate 20 acres of land around Highland Reservoir. Five years later, in 1888, after the election of new government officials, the city somewhat reluctantly accepted the gift. Nursery officers agreed to plant two plants of every specimen grown at the nursery.
On the crest of the parkland a wooden observation pavilion was erected. The circular structure, built at a cost of $7,000, was 62 feet in diameter and three stories high, each one slightly smaller than the one below.
The pavilion was dedicated to the children of the City of Rochester on September 27, 1890, a few weeks after Patrick Barry's death on June 23, 1890. George Ellwanger wrote a speech, which was read by his son George Herman Ellwanger.
To this commanding elevation I have been in the habit of coming, almost daily, for forty years. I came to breathe the fresh invigorating air that comes across the country, laden with the perfume of the fields and of the flowers and vegetation that grow in rich luxuriance as far as the eye can see.
From this high vantage ground, overlooking the famed valley of the Genesee-the Garden of Western New York-I have often looked with ever-increasing admiration on the blue outlines of the distant hills at the South, the vineyard slope of the hills at the East, and North the busy prosperous city where rise so many happy homes.
I have often asked myself the question, "Where have nature and art, God's handiwork and the skill of man, combined so many elements of beauty, of prosperity and of happiness?"
Though I have travelled in many countries and have looked upon the fairest scenes of other lands, I have always returned to my chosen home and this elevation to renew my faith in my early conviction that this is one of the most favored and beautiful spots on earth. In these later years, I still come here to refresh myself after mental and physical fatigue, and find, although looked upon so many times, the scene ever possesses the old power to please, it always charms the eyes and rests the mind.
Believing that the attractions of nature are in harmony with the best feelings of everyone, my late associate in business, Mr. Barry, and myself desired that this good city of Rochester, where we have spent so many pleasant years, should possess forever this spot, at once so health-giving to visit and so beautiful to look upon. We, therefore, for a long time, cherished the intention of donating this elevation to the citizens of Rochester. Now that my associate has passed away, I deem it fitting that this Pavilion, on this memorable year, the semi-centennial anniversary of our co-partnership, upon these heights, should be considered a joint memorial to him and to those of us who must soon follow him.
Though the grounds around the structure are now in the rough, they will soon be planted with shrubs and flowers, and it is my wish and intention that they shall become, every year, more and more attractive, affording to all, more especially to the children of the city a healthful and agreeable place of recreation. I, therefore, on behalf of my late associate and myself, hereby dedicate this Pavilion to the children of the city of Rochester.
Accepting the gift of the pavilion for the children were two youngsters, Augusta Laney (later Mrs. Charles Hoeing) and Herbert Stern. As adults they were generous benefactors of the University of Rochester Library.
Patrick Barry died in 1890. However, his sons William Crawford Barry and Charles Patrick Barry had been with the firm for almost 20 years and were well qualified to continue their father's work. The Ellwanger and Barry entries at the horticultural fairs were frequently judged superior, and in 1902 they won the gold medal for the outstanding display of pears at the Paris Exposition. During the following seven years the nursery was awarded a total of 642 prizes, and they were shipping trees to China, New Zealand, and Arabia.
George Ellwanger remained active in the business until the age of 86. Every day, except when the snow was too deep, his liveryman would drive him on an inspection tour of the nursery grounds. Of his four sons, only Henry Brooks and George Herman joined the nursery business, and Henry died in 1883. George Ellwanger died in 1906 at the age of 90.
Many factors contributed to the decline of the Mount Hope Nursery. The nurseries in the West were fully established and supplying material in their own localities. Arboretums were developed throughout the country so people did not have to travel to Rochester to see fine specimen trees. The growth of the seed industry had devastating effects on large nurseries, and it was almost impossible to compete with their fast, inexpensive, mail-order technique. James Vick, Hiram Sibley and Company, and Joseph Harris and their seed firms had excellent reputations throughout the country. Brown Brothers and Mount Hope nurseries were the only large Rochester nurseries still operating.
It was after the death of William Crawford Barry in 1916 that the end of the nursery business came in sight. W. C. Barry's sons had followed him in the business and the firm was in good hands, but outside factors finally made themselves felt. There was debate among the directors of the nursery company about which course should be pursued. There were suggestions of establishing a landscaping business or entering the seed business "to prolong the selling season." The diaries kept for 1917 and 1918 by Arthur Barry and Charles Maloy, the chief foreman and secretary of the company, are filled with references to poor business and labor problems. The workmen struck and demanded $2.50 per day, and the company was forced to pay. The spring of 1917 was unusually wet and cold, so the growing season was three weeks behind schedule.
The trend continued in 1918: poor business and labor strikes for an 8½-hour day. Finally, on March 8, the directors met and agreed to dissolve the nursery company. They stopped taking orders, except for the stock that was in storage, and the Ellwanger and Barry Realty Company purchased the nursery grounds. On May 17 Mr. Maloy informed his men of the dissolution of the nursery, and work commenced on clearing out the orchard trees. It was the end of an era.
These two horticultural giants--Ellwanger, a German Lutheran, staunch Republican, astute businessman, and avid reader, and Barry, an Irish Catholic, active Democrat, orator, writer, and teacher--brought pride and dignity to their city. A newspaper editor made the following observation on the occasion of George Ellwanger's eightieth birthday:
The meaning of Mr. Ellwanger's life does not lie in the simple fact that coming to this country a poor German boy, without friends, without means, without influence, he has acquired all these things, and is today a man of wealth with a host of friends and has an influence second to none in this city, but the meaning of Mr. Ellwanger's life lies in this other fact that these acquirements of his are not the outcome of any happy accident or any whim of fortune, but are the natural and necessary result of his own character and training. . . . It has been his thoroughness, his industry and his integrity, together with a benevolent and public spirit, which have gained for him his enviable position.
Although this was written as a tribute to George Ellwanger, it could easily have applied to Patrick Barry. Together, these two, with the establishment of the Mount Hope Botanical and Pomological Gardens, contributed greatly to the changing of Rochester-from the Flour City to the Flower City.
The sources for the preceding article can be found in the collections of the Department of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives, University of Rochester Library. They are:
Barry, Patrick. The Fruit Garden; a Treatise. . . New York, Charles Scribner, 1851.
Brief Memoranda Concerning Mount Hope Nursery. . . Rochester, N.Y., 1859.
Ellwanger and Barry Company Papers, 1839-1963. Fifty boxes and 225 volumes. The principal source for a history of the Ellwanger and Barry Nursery, consisting of correspondence, ledgers and account books, diaries, records of fruit trials, inventories, and photographs.
Ellwanger and Barry. Mount Hope Nursery. [Catalogue] Rochester, N.Y., 1843-1917. The second most important source on the nursery. After 1859, issued annually.
Ellwanger, William D. A Snuff-box Full of Trees. New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1909.
Elwood, James L., and Dewey, Dellon N. A Directory and Gazeteer of the City of Rochester for 1844. Rochester, N.Y., Canfield & Warren, 1844.
Genesee Farmer. Rochester, N.Y., 1831-1865.
Hedrick, U. P. A History of Horticulture in America to 1860. New York, Oxford University Press, 1950.
McKelvey, Blake. "The Flower City: Center of Nurseries and Fruit Orchards." Rochester Historical SocietyPublications. Vol. 18, pt. 2. Rochester, N.Y., 1940.
Peck, William F. Semi-Centennial History of the City of Rochester, . . . Syracuse, N.Y., D. Morton & Co., 1884.
Rochester newspapers: The University of Rochester's Rush Rhees Library and the Rochester, N.Y., public library hold microfilm runs of the following Rochester, N.Y., newspapers: Rochester Daily Advertiser, Rochester Daily Democrat, Rochester Republican, Rochester Herald, and Union and Advertiser. An index to these newspapers at the Rochester Public Library is useful in locating material on the Ellwanger and Barry Company.