University of Rochester Library Bulletin: A Family Story, The Ellwangers and the Barrys

Volume XXXV · 1982
A Family Story: The Ellwangers and the Barrys

The Ellwanger and Barry Company Papers, the Barry Family Papers, and the Ellwanger Papers are all preserved in the Department of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives of the University of Rochester's Rush Rhees Library. There are folders of letters, both business and personal, ledgers and account books, diaries, photographs, and ephemera that document the busy lives of the founders of the nursery and their children and grandchildren. Reading through the varied materials is an act of detection, both rewarding and simultaneously frustrating. Obviously some things have not survived and others never existed. Some people never save old letters; others do not record their thoughts in journals or in letters to friends and family. In these collections of papers, the reader catches glimpses of personalities and individuals, enough to whet the appetite but then can find no more.

The surviving diaries record very telegraphically only the most mundane activities, and the state of the weather; they almost never comment on the diarist's state of mind, and, worse yet, neglect to record major milestones in the families. Cornelia Brooks Ellwanger, for example, made a chronology of family history and noted the arrival of her piano, but not the births of her four children.

From the early account books it is possible to discover where George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry boarded, who did their laundry, and what it cost to travel to New York. The accounts even record that the first purchase made by the infant firm was a pair of canaries in a cage for George Ellwanger (Patrick Barry bought a dog a year later, while George was out of the country), but nothing remains to show their hopes, fears, or expectations in their new city. Even the letters that survive are somewhat deceptive, for they often seem to record mostly unhappy moments, the family deaths and separations, which must have been balanced by many happy occasions and ordinary days that were not preserved in permanent form.

Many questions remain unanswered. What was the relationship between Cornelia Ellwanger and Harriet Barry? They were united by sex and circumstance, though divided by religion. Were they friends? Did the young Barrys and Ellwangers explore the woods and fields together?

William Barry and Henry Ellwanger were both fascinated by roses. Did they collaborate, or perhaps did the one interest the other in the subject? Still, here and there, the researcher discovers as much as perhaps can be known about who these people were.

There are advantages and disadvantages in belonging to a clan. The pressure to carry on the family business may be less when there are many candidates in the family, freeing some individuals to pursue their own interests. On the other hand, the family may present a united front to the world outside, while behind the scenes gossiping and sniping at each other. Minnie Barry wrote to her husband, Will, when he was in Paris in 1888 that Hattie (her sister-in-law who lived next door) had said she was glad to get away for a trip with friends because she was so lonely. "I ought to feel lonely," wrote Minnie tartly, "if anyone does." Whether that represented the typical or atypical is impossible now to know.

If the partnership between George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry could be described as an easy tandem or compared to a pair of draft horses working together, the appropriate metaphor for the families seems to be planetary. They seemed to be held together by a balance of gravity and centrifugal force as they revolved around the twin suns of their homesteads on Mt. Hope Avenue. From time to time one child or another would seem to fly out of orbit, to come back after a period, or perhaps never to return. Charles Barry worked in the nursery and lived at home until his middle thirties, when he married and moved to houses farther and farther away from the family compound. John Barry seemed to spend his life getting as far away as possible, and ended by practicing medicine in New York. George Herman Ellwanger began in the printing and publishing business, but left it at the age of 35 to write and help manage the nursery. William Ellwanger became a lawyer and moved to East Avenue. William Barry seemed to be the one member of the second generation who balanced the forces. He lived and worked all his life within a few hundred yards of his birthplace, and while never as eminent in his profession as his father Patrick, since it is seldom possible to surpass a pioneer in public esteem, he still made a name and place for himself in the world external to the clan. He combined family and profession into a satisfactory blend that few are able to achieve.

With many misgivings, the archivist-explorer has put together the available evidence and so here follows a short account of the individuals who made up the Ellwanger and Barry families.

In 1846 George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry had been partners for over five years, and each must have felt prosperous enough to consider marriage. They had lived carefully, saved their money, and built the business and recorded each item in the firm's account book. The account books and other surviving records do not show how they met their future wives, although they do contain notations about business trips to Richfield Springs in Otsego County and to Brooksgrove in Livingston County.

However it came about, in late December of 1846 George Ellwanger married Miss Cornelia Brooks of Brooksgrove. She was a daughter of General Micah Brooks, a hero of the War of 1812 and famous as an early settler who had prospered to become a patriarch surrounded by his flocks and fields at the Brooks homestead. Cornelia was evidently a quiet, devout woman, known for her charitable works, support of her church, and love of music.

Patrick Barry married Miss Harriet Heustis in June 1847. Her family had a comfortable farm near Exeter Center in Otsego County. The two families settled on opposite sides of Mt. Hope Avenue, in modest houses each man built to accommodate his new family. The Barrys lived on the east side, near the nursery office, and the Ellwangers lived on the west side on what had been James Hawks's farmstead.

The Ellwangers raised four sons; the Barrys had six sons and two daughters. By the turn of the century the two families formed an extensive clan, with some involved with the nursery business and related family enterprises, and others striking out in entirely different directions. The careers of the second generation saw the end of the nursery business as the central enterprise for Ellwangers and Barrys.

Of George Ellwanger's four sons, Henry Brooks Ellwanger was the one who most closely followed his father's interests. Born in 1851, and educated privately in Rochester and Germany, he originally planned to study for the Episcopal priesthood. He attended St. Stephen's College, Annandale, New Jersey, but poor eyesight put an end to his ambition in that direction. Thwarted, he turned his energies into lay service in St. Andrew's parish in Rochester and into becoming a mainstay of the Ellwanger and Barry Nursery.

Henry Ellwanger employed the musical training he had obtained in Leipzig in organizing and directing the choir of St. Andrew's. He also played the organ with distinction, composed music, and was one of the founders and first officers of the Rochester Oratorio Society. His home, next to George Ellwanger's on Mt. Hope Avenue, was known for its beauty, comfort, elegance, and hospitality. Visitors compared it to the ideal "House Beautiful."

At the nursery, he worked in each department until he had become familiar with the entire business, and then was admitted as a partner. Perhaps also following his father's partiality for flowers, Henry decided to concentrate on cultivating roses. He studied the history of roses as well, and by his late twenties was the resident expert on the subject. He delivered essays to the Western New York Horticultural Society on American roses and hardy roses for gardens. In 1882 he published the result of his years of study and practice, The Rose(New York, 1882). It went through many printings and two editions by 1914, and became a standard authority on the subject.

In 1874 Henry married Mary Brooks of Pearl Creek in Wyoming County. They had one son who died in infancy, and Mary began to suffer from the ill health that confined her for the balance of her life.

In June 1883 Henry attended the rose exhibition in Boston. He returned to Rochester, became gravely ill, and died on August 7, at the age of 32, to the stunned disbelief of his family and friends. It was generally agreed that had he lived, he would have carried on the Ellwanger tradition and would undoubtedly have made a great name for himself in horticulture.

The eldest Ellwanger son, George Herman, was the other member of the family to take an interest in the nursery. He was born in 1848, educated in Rochester and Germany, and on his return from his continental travels in 1868 entered the family business. He stayed long enough to become knowledgeable, but in 1874 he bought the Evening Express Printing Company, publisher of the Rochester Evening Express, which became the Rochester Post Express in 1882. For the next 10 years, until his retirement from editing in 1883, he was known as a journalist.

In May 1883, George Herman announced that he was giving up business to devote his time to writing. The first book he produced was The Garden's Story (New York, 1889), a pleasant combination of literary quotation and practical advice on gardening. This was followed by The Story of My House (New York, 1891), in which he exercised poetic license to imagine a golden ship sailing across the Atlantic, into Lake Ontario, and up the Genesee (despite the falls), to bring a cargo to furnish his ideal house. He demonstrated his familiarity with the favorite family subject, and contributed an introduction to the new edition of his brother Henry's book The Rosein 1892. He wrote six other works of belles lettres: In Gold and Silver (1892), Idyllists of the Countryside(1895), Love's Desmesne (1896), Meditations on Gout (1897), Pleasures of the Table (1902), and Love's Old Sweet Song (1903), and wrote an introduction to a new edition of The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White (New York, 1898).

George Herman Ellwanger married Harriet Stillson, the daughter of Jerome Stillson, in 1873. They had three daughters, Florence, Laura, and Julia. He died on April 22, 1906, at the age of 58, after months of failing health.

William Delancey Ellwanger was the only son to survive his father. Born in 1854, he was educated at Yale and in Germany, and graduated from Albany Law School. He practiced law in Rochester until his death in 1913.

William Ellwanger, like his brothers, was of a literary turn. He was an authority on oriental rugs and wrote The Oriental Rug (New York, 1903, London, 1904). He also preserved one of the most interesting Ellwanger and Barry stories, the tale of the sequoias, in A Snuff-box Full of Trees (New York, 1909).

Edward S. Ellwanger, the youngest of the brothers, was born in 1859. He was educated in Rochester, at Tivoli-on-the-Hudson, and in Europe. He worked for Putnam in New York for a year, then returned to Rochester in 1881 and worked at Scrantom, Wetmore & Co. as a bookkeeper until 1886. He then went into business for himself, first as a distributor of fireproof safes, and after 1891, oil heaters. He married Leah Cresswell in 1884. They had two daughters, Margaret and Helen, and lived in the house originally owned by Henry Ellwanger, next to George Ellwanger on the west side of Mt. Hope Avenue. Edward Ellwanger was stricken with Bright's disease and died in 1897 after a prolonged illness.

After the death of George Ellwanger in 1906, Leah Cresswell Ellwanger moved to the old family house next door, the better to care for the gardens laid out by her father-in-law. Miss Helen Ellwanger, the granddaughter of George, lived there until her death May 2, 1982, at the age of 96. She devoted her long life to the preservation of the very best of Rochester's architectural and landscape heritage, much of which was established by her family.

Of Patrick Barry's eight children, four lived beyond young adulthood, and two entered the family business. In order of birth, the young Barrys were William Crawford, John Heustis, Charles Patrick, Thomas Francis, Rose Marie, Harriet Elizabeth, Joseph Vincent, and Frederick. The surviving records give a more intimate picture of the Barry children than of the Ellwangers.

John Heustis Barry was the second son, born in 1850. As far as can be ascertained he took no interest whatever in horticulture. In his teens he attended school in Louvain, France, with his brother Will, and travelled in Europe. He then attended the University of Rochester and graduated in 1870 with a bachelor of science degree. After graduation he went into the lumber business with Albert Bennett at a location on Lake Avenue at the opposite end of Rochester from the nursery, but still in an area with strong Ellwanger and Barry interests. The business perhaps did not prosper, and in 1880 John went into partnership with Samuel and Aaron Bennett, the proprietors of the Glen House on the Genesee River. They maintained a small fleet of pleasure boats and ran excursions to Canada during the summer. This venture also suffered reverses, including the loss of one of the boats, and in 1881 John left business, commerce, and Rochester for good. He entered Columbia Medical School, graduated in 1884, and lived in New York City, where he practiced medicine until his death in 1904.

Thomas Francis Barry-the fourth son, born in 1855-like John took no interest in the nursery. He was a talented student who attended the University of Rochester and graduated at the age of 18 with the class of 1873. He then entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy in the fall of 1873 to study civil engineering. He worked diligently, and in a surviving letter to his father, reported that a project that the professor said would require 60 hours of work had taken 104 ¼ hours, although some had finished in 15 or 30 hours.

Whether his attention to detail and passion for accuracy would have served him as an engineer never became known, for he developed the symptoms of tuberculosis in October 1874. Patrick Barry took him to Florida for the winter, but to no avail. In May 1875 he was brought home to Rochester and died in June, at the age of 20.

The Barrys were greatly afflicted by tuberculosis. During the same year that Tom Barry was diagnosed, his younger sister Rose Marie was also discovered to be suffering from the disease. Then Joseph died in 1880 at the age of 18 and Frederick in 1881 at the age of 17. Journeys to Colorado and summers in the Adirondacks did nothing to alleviate the symptoms or delay the inevitable.

Rose is represented in the collection of documents by a few letters from her convent school at Troy and by entries in a pocket diary kept during the last summer of her life. She either did not care for convent school life or was already suffering from the disease that killed her, for her letters sound bored and unhappy. The pocket diary is sadly eloquent. Rose recorded her daily carriage rides, undoubtedly prescribed by her doctor in the absence of any effective treatment, and noted the names of her visitors and their gifts. The record ceased abruptly when Tom died, and a second hand noted the date of her death on August 2, 1875, six weeks after the death of her brother and 10 days before her nineteenth birthday. The same hand wrote "fidelis usque ad mortem is our motto" and "Rose's 19th birthday. Went to the cemetery from there to the lake how we missed Rose and Tom" and "patient suffering is pure gold," on other pages.

Harriet Barry was the second daughter, nearly three years younger than her sister Rose. She was born in 1859 and educated with Rose at Sacred Heart Academy, Prince Street, Rochester, and at the convent in Troy. In many ways Harriet seemed to be the typical spinster daughter. She was not a beauty and as she remained unmarried through her twenties, must have expected to spend her life being the helpful, obliging daughter and aunt.

Then in 1888 Bernhard Liesching applied through the mediation of friends in Stuttgart for a clerical position with Ellwanger and Barry. Bernhard was the only child of Theodor Liesching, a prominent citizen of Stuttgart and a member of an old family. He was born in 1868, and had begun a business career in one of the Stuttgart banks, when he decided for some reason to emigrate. He arrived in Rochester early in 1888, and worked for the nursery for a year, at a salary of $500 a year, or $9.60 per week. At the beginning of 1889, Bernhard moved over to the Flour City Bank, to a position as bookkeeper. The surety company that was to supply the necessary bond for his new bank position applied to Patrick Barry for a further reference, because they noted, since he was only 21, had been in the country for less than two years, and had no family in America, he might become homesick, default, and return to his own country. The American Surety Company need not have worried. In April 1892 Bernhard married Harriet Barry, who was nine years older than he. Soon after he became a naturalized citizen.

Harriet and Bernhard moved to a comfortable brick and frame house on South Avenue between Cypress and Linden streets. They commissioned photographs of the interior of their home after they had settled into housekeeping, and the eight views show a Germanic taste in furniture and, also, Harriet and Bernhard ensconced in cosy domesticity.

Her marriage also opened a new vista in Germany for Harriet. Her husband had an extensive family in Stuttgart, and they travelled to Germany to visit them. Other photographs from the period show Harriet and Bernhard riding in the forest, and Harriet smoking a cigarette, while Bernhard enjoyed his schnapps and cigar. Bernhard advanced to director of the Flour City Bank, and also became vice president of the Ellwanger and Barry Realty Company after its incorporation in 1900. After the death of Harriet Heustis Barry, Patrick's widow, Harriet and Bernhard moved to the homestead next to the nursery office. They had no children.

Bernhard died in 1934. Harriet lived on to the age of 92, dying in 1951, the last vestige of her generation. In her final years, she received letters and gifts from her husband's family, for she ranked as the oldest living Liesching and was honored at family gatherings.

Charles Patrick Barry was the younger of the two brothers who carried on the nursery business in the Barry family. He was born in 1852 and educated at the University of Rochester, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1873 and a master's degree in 1879. After the completion of his education and the travelling deemed necessary for a young man of good family, he went into the family business. He seems to have been more a businessman than a horticulturist, and though he held the positions of vice president of Ellwanger and Barry Nursery and Ellwanger and Barry Realty Company, he did not become prominent in the horticultural world as did his father, Patrick, and elder brother William.

In 1888, Charles married Julia Wald, the sister of the Lillian Wald who founded the Henry Street Settlement in New York. Charles and Julia lived near the family homestead, in a small house on Linden Street, for a few years before moving in 1892 to a massive new stone house on East Avenue at the corner of Argyle Street. Charles died in 1907 at the age of 55, after months of declining health. He was survived by Julia and his children Harriet, Thomas, and Alfred.

William Crawford Barry was the eldest child of Patrick Barry and followed the most closely in his father's footsteps. He was born in 1847 and educated at Seton Hall College in New Jersey, then under the supervision of Bernard McQuaid, the future bishop of Rochester. After completing studies at Seton Hall, he and his younger brother John were sent in 1868 to Louvain, France, for a few months, followed by a continental tour and an audience with the pope. Upon their return, Will entered the nursery business and was soon made a junior partner. He early began to represent Ellwanger and Barry at state fairs and horticultural conferences. In 1869 he travelled to the Georgia State Fair at Macon, and delivered an essay on keeping and ripening apples and other fruit at the American Pomological Society in Boston in 1873.

By 1881 Will was prominent enough in the field to be elected president of the American Nurserymen's Association. At the age of 34, he was the youngest man ever to hold the post, but in his characteristically modest fashion he neglected to record it in his journal. This honor was only the first of many. He was the first president of the American Rose Society, president of the Eastern Nurserymen's Association, and in 1890 he succeeded his father as president of the Western New York Horticultural Society, a position he held until his death in 1916. He was also one of the planners of the horticultural exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.

William Barry was also an active businessman. He became a full partner with George Ellwanger after Patrick Barry's death in 1890, and became president of both the nursery and realty companies when the partnership was incorporated in 1900. By the time of his death he had been president of Rochester Trust Co., vice president of the Lincoln National Bank (successor to the Flour City Bank), and a director of the Rochester Electric Railroad and the Rochester and Suburban Railroad. He was repeatedly urged to run for political office, for positions as various as state assemblyman and mayor, but he always declined. A grandson, the late Peter Barry, did serve Rochester as its mayor, from 1955 to 1962.

William Barry's life revolved around his family, his church, and his gardens. He was devoutly Catholic and followed Patrick Barry in supporting the Catholic Orphanage and serving as trustee of the Cathedral Parish.

In 1874, he married Marie Louise Gaffney, known to her family as Minnie. She was a Rochester beauty, a devout Catholic, and one of several children of Owen Gaffney, a founder of Burke, FitzSimmons & Hone, the Rochester department and dry goods store. They had seven children, of whom five, William Jr., Frederic, Arthur, Marie Louise, and Harriet Rose, lived to adulthood. William's feelings for his family are illustrated in the family papers by the letters he wrote home to Minnie during the winter of 1886-1887, which he spent at Saranac Lake, undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. It was an emotionally wracking time, during which two of his younger children died, and under the stress of separation and grief he expressed feelings which perhaps otherwise would have not been committed to paper. "Another Sunday has passed away," he wrote. "I imagine you all in the library tonight. How I wish I could peep in at you through the window," and later, "The more I see of other people, the more I am convinced that we are happier in the enjoyment of each other's love than most people."

After family and church, the subject nearest his heart was probably the creation of the Rochester park system. William Barry was appointed a member of the original park commission created in 1888 after the City of Rochester accepted the gift of Highland Park from Ellwanger and Barry, and he served until 1915, a period of over 25 years. He and his fellow commissioners were responsible for the chain of green space that encircles Rochester, and the famous collections of specimen plants in Highland Park.

William Crawford Barry died in 1916. Minnie had died in 1911. He had outlived his younger brothers John and Charles, his father and his father's partner, and all four Ellwanger sons. His life had begun seven years after the beginning of the Ellwanger and Barry partnership, and the nursery survived him by only two years. Although his three sons had followed him in the business, they voted with the other trustees to terminate the Ellwanger and Barry Nursery in early 1918.

Conditions had changed in the nursery business, for the city had grown southward around the nursery lands, and the real estate was too valuable to be left as fields. The business could have been moved farther out and away from the city, but the difficult conditions during the war, problems with labor, and rising costs tipped the balance. The third generation could turn to the family interests in banking and the already well established Ellwanger and Barry Realty Company, and so the simple solution to the dilemma must have been appealing. The jazz age had begun and the standard sentiment of the early decades of the twentieth century was that the old must give way to the new. Like many another piece of Rochester history, the nursery died soon after the last of the second generation and an era ended for Rochester and for the Ellwanger and Barry families.


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