The Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden announces the publication of a digital collection of vintage nursery and seed catalogs of the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries, Florida. The cataloging record of the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries, Florida and list of digitized catalogs with links to the digitized catalogs may be found here.
This guide explores the relationship between the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries, Florida and the Cuban Experiment Station, Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba, a research facility established and supported with the help of the New York Botanical Garden. It also profiles author, civic leader, photographer and nursery catalog printer J. Horace McFarland, whose firm printed, designed and photographed the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries catalogs.
The Glen Saint Mary Nurseries (GSMN) Company was founded in 1882 by G.L. Taber in Glen Saint Mary, Florida. The nursery was established on 20 acres of abandoned cotton fields, but it had expanded to over 800 acres by its 25th anniversary. George L. Taber, the proprietor of the nursery, is generally credited as the founder of the town of Glen Saint Mary, Florida; the history of the town may be found here. Today the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries continues as a commercial enterprise, making it one of the nation’s oldest nursery businesses in continuous operation; its web site and products may be accessed here.
The Town of Glen Saint Mary, Florida web site describes the origins of the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries.
“After the re-discovery of Florida during the post-Civil War boom, a young Chicago stockbroker came to Florida in 1881 on the advice of his physician. Touring the countryside, he fell in love with the area. He purchased a tract of land off the St. Mary's River and began to plant an orchard. Becoming interested in the plant industry, he formed a partnership with Thomas Beath in 1882 and began the Glen St. Mary Nursery Company. Soon after Mr. Beath left the business, the company began to grow. George Taber became a charter member of the Florida State Horticulture Society and served as its president."
In the mid 1890's northern Florida was hit by two major freezes, one in December, 1894, the second in February of 1895. A gallery of images of the so called "Great Freeze" and its aftermath can be viewed here. The result was a calamity for the northern Florida citrus industry. Hundreds of groves and orchards were destroyed. Forida citrus production which before the freeze had peaked at six million boxes of fruit per season plummeted to just 100,000 boxes. Most farmers gave up, some moved to frost-free locations like Cuba, Puerto Rico or Jamaica, but G.L. Taber refused to abandon Glen Saint Mary and instead he introduced varieties of cold hardy citrus, e.g. the Satsuma Orange, Temple Orange and Kumquat. He encouraged other farmers to stay and with his tenacity and intelligence he learned new ways to protect his plants from the cold. Most of the resurgent northern Florida citrus industry started with plants from the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries.
A letter printed in the 1906 Glen Saint Mary catalog but dated November, 1905 provides a surprising link to the New York Botanical Garden. The letter, written by nursery owner G.L. Taber, proudly announces to his customers that his nursery had recently fulfilled an order from the Cuban Experiment Station at Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba for a “large number of trees.” The director of the Cuban experiment station who placed the order was Franklin Sumner Earle. Earle was the first mycologist at the New York Botanical Garden; his papers are on deposit at the Mertz Library. The Earle papers finding aid may be viewed here.
In his letter, Taber informs the reader that Earle was sufficiently satisfied with the quality of the trees supplied by his nursery to the Cuban Experiment Station, that Earle also placed a large order of trees for his personal residence.
Almost contemporaneously with the publication of Taber’s letter, the journal Science, (Science, New Series, Vol. 20, No. 509 (Sep. 30, 1904), pp. 444-445), published a report by Earle entitled “Botany at the Cuban Experiment Station.” In the report, Earle describes the mission and curatorial staff of the station which included a Mr. Percy Wilson of the New York Botanical Garden. Earle also expresses gratitude to the NYBG for the generous donation of numerous herbarium specimens to the Cuban station’s fledgling herbarium. Further, Earle notes that through the New York Botanical Garden, a tropical laboratory has been established at the Cuban station, fulfilling a “dream of American botanists.”
In the Science article Frank Sumner Earle informs the reader of the connections between the Cuban Experiment Station and the New York Botanical Garden.
“The botanical department proper is in charge of Professor C. E. Baker, of Pomona College, California, with Mr. Percy Wilson, of the New York Botanical Garden, as assistant. It is provided with an abundance of room for laboratory and museum purposes. The furnishings include herbarium cases of native hard-woods. The library already contains many of the more important general works, and a special effort is being made to get together as complete ,a collection as possible of books relating to tropical American botany. The private libraries of Professor Baker and of the writer are also on deposit and are accessible. These include several thousand additional titles. Through the generosity of the New York Botanical Garden and the purchase of Mr. Heller's private collection of West Indian plants, the herbarium already comprises several thousand mounted sheets of West Indian plants that have been determined at the leading herbaria. … An available tropical laboratory has long been the dream of American botanists. Within the last few months this dream has been realized by the arrangement between the Jamaican government and the New York Botanical Garden for the use of the Cinchona plantations.”
The Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden has several volumes of the reports from the Cuban Experiment Station; many passages in the reports were written by Earle. A link to the cataloging record of the printed reports in the Mertz Library may be found here; a link to the digitized version of a report from the Cuban Experiment Station and contributed by the Mertz Library to the Biodiversity Heritage Library may be found here.
Also of interest is that the Glen Saint Mary, Florida catalogs were printed, engraved, designed and photographed by the Mount Pleasant Press of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Mount Pleasant Press printed many of the most elaborate nursery and seed catalogs published in the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century. The Press was owned and managed by J. Horace McFarland (1859 – 1948), who was among other things, a pioneer of horticultural photography. McFarland’s sense of graphic design, his sophisticated photographic and marketing skills and his brilliant commercial instincts made him the most important individual in the literature of early 20th century American nursery and seed catalogs. The Glen Saint Mary, Florida nursery catalog is a good example of McFarland’s distinctive style. McFarland’s talents, as we will soon learn, went well beyond the printing of nursery and seed catalogs, and prompted one researcher to call McFarland “the most important American you’ve never heard of.” The Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens has created a beautiful selection of his garden photographs here.
The McFarland papers are on deposit at the Pennsylvania State Archives. The McFarland papers finding aid may be viewed here. The National Agricultural Library contains the pictorial archives of the McFarland/Mount Pleasant Press, consisting of photographic materials and watercolor paintings. To access the web site click here.
McFarland set new standards for American horticultural printing and graphic design. He teamed with the NYC photographer William Kurtz (1833-1904) in the development of high volume commercial color photographic printing. In the 1890's Kurtz greatly improved upon an earlier German technology and introduced a three color half tone process that allowed for the high speed inexpensive printing of thousands of color photographs without loss of fidelity. Kurtz's process introduced color images to American magazines and catalogs. McFarland improved upon Kurtz's process by adding black pigment to the three color process, achieving a richer fuller color effect. McFarland, who was also a prolific writer, penned a glowing review of the life and adventures of his brilliant business partner William Kurtz, in an issue of the The Inland Printer, Vol. XV no. 3, June, 1895 pp. 265-267, a link to the article is provided here. The article includes an account of Kurtz being shipwrecked in the Falkland Islands as well as his military service in a volunteer regiment in the Crimean War and enlistment in the 7th regiment of the US Army during the Civil War.
Based on his experience photographing the orchards and plants of his nursery clients, McFarland wrote a book entitled: Photographing flowers and trees (1911). His photographs illustrate the pages of the Glen Saint Mary catalogs. McFarland’s photographic style included using architectural perspective and allowing the fruits and flowers in his photographs to escape the frame of the image. These techniques seemingly brought the image into the viewer's space and provided a compelling depth and drama to each image, samples from Mertz Digital are here, here and here. The Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens holds more than 3,000 of McFarland’s photographs, see here.
One episode in McFarland’s early career places him at an event that was to showcase America’s emergence as a global power and New York City as a stage for world class pageantry. In 1899 McFarland was commissioned by The Outlook, at the time one of the most popular weekly news magazines in America, to photograph the welcome home festivities for Admiral Dewey and the American fleet in NYC. It was reported that five million New Yorkers turned out for the naval and land victory parades and welcome home festivities. The pageantry and regalia of the two day event recalled the splendor of an ancient Roman triumph. It was of course the perfect subject for a young photographic genius to capture on film. A motion picture film not by McFarland but by Thomas Edison of the Dewey parade has been restored and digitized by the Library of Congress and may be viewed on the right column of this guide.
The Dewey welcome home event was beautifully illustrated in the Peter Henderson Company nursery catalog of 1900. (Access to all of the digitized Peter Henderson catalogs in Mertz Digital may be found here) The Glen Saint Mary Nursery named a peach variety after Admiral Dewey as illustrated here. Many nurseries in the early years of the 20th century named flowers, fruits and even popcorn in honor of Admiral Dewey as documented here and here.
A detailed description of the facts and circumstances surrounding the Admiral Dewey triumph in New York City is provided in David Brody’s book Visualizing American Empire: Orientalism and Imperialism in the Philippines, University of Chicago Press, 2010.
McFarland, a master gardener, as well as the founder and first President of the American Rose Society, is also credited with the establishment of the National Parks Service. McFarland organized the defense of Niagara Falls from the development efforts of power companies and was a central figure with John Muir and the Sierra Club in ensuring the preservation of Yosemite National Park. His contributions to Rose horticulture earned him the name “Mr. Rose” and he developed a method of rose classification that is still in use today. The American Rose Society's McFarland Trophy is named in his honor. McFarland was a relentless advocate for urban renewal and is credited with leading the nation’s “City Beautiful” movement.
McFarland was a prolific author and the Mertz Library owns twenty-eight books written by him. A biography of McFarland entitled J. Horace McFarland: A Thorn for Beauty was published in 1995, a copy of which is in the collection of the Mertz library. The Heritage Rose Foundation in 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of his birth with the publication of a splendid commemorative essay available here.
McFarland’s home and garden called “Breeze Hill,” a 2.4 acre property in the Bellevue Park section of Harrisburg was famous among horticulturists around the world as a testing ground for hundreds of new plant species.
Today, McFarland’s sense of style and mastery of horticultural photography remains highly regarded as is demonstrated by the use of a rose photograph taken by him that appears on the dedication page of the recently published book One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place (2011) a copy of which is in the Mertz library.
Many American nurseries including the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries named flowers, fruits and even popcorn in honor of Admiral Dewey.
Source: 1899 Miss Mary E. Martin Catalog of Flowers back cover [flowers for springtime] Floral Park, NY
A motion picture recording of the Dewey parade in NYC (1899) by the Edison studios has been restored by the Library of Congress. J Horace McFarland who printed and photographed the Glen Saint Mary Nurseries catalogs, photographed the Dewey parade on assignment for The Outlook magazine.
The Lue Gim Gong Orange was sold by the Glen Saint Mary Nursery and achieved great commercial success as a cold hardy citrus product.