Acres of gladiolus blooms. Hundreds of thousands of rooted geranium and chrysanthemum cuttings. Tulips, lilies, and poinsettias forced for the holidays. Greenhouses 150 feet long, some containing nothing but foliage greens such as ferns and ivy. It is so hard to picture it today, but in the mid-twentieth century, particularly along Windsor and Palisado Avenues, floriculture was very big business in Windsor. It is worthwhile to look back, imagine the colorful displays and earthy smells of the greenhouses, and appreciate the economic impact this sphere of commerce would have had on the community during its prime decades between 1930 and 1960.
Irish-born Edward F. McDermott, a gardener in Hartford, purchased a house in Windsor in 1910. He proceeded to erect a greenhouse in the rear yard of this property located alongside Creamery Brook across from the lower end of Broad Street Green. McDermott is recognized as the first to open a florist shop in Windsor and successfully ran it for 35 years.
Gustaf and Axel Hallgren learned the floral business from their father in Sweden, immigrated to the Hartford area around 1900, and established their own partnership in 1914. Hallgren Brothers grew most of their flowers in a large greenhouse complex at 280 Windsor Avenue in an area with other market gardens and family farms. By 1917 one greenhouse was devoted completely to growing carnations and another was filled with 5,000 chrysanthemums in the fall and 25,000 bedding plants by early spring. They sold to the local retail market and shipped extensive wholesale orders. For years Hallgren’s plants and flowers decorated local social events such as weddings and high school proms.
John F. Ward came to Windsor in 1918 and found work as a gardener on Windsor Heights. By 1931 he had established his own florist and greenhouse business at 844 Palisado Avenue selling cut flowers, fresh dug bedding plants, and perennials. Ward retired in the early 1950s.
A little further south at 598 Palisado Avenue, Eugene and Edna Drakeopened the Palisado Greenhouse in 1921. Although Eugene passed away just a few years later, Edna operated the greenhouses and florist business for thirty years. When she sold to the Bunk family in the early 1950s, the main greenhouse extended 150 feet eastward and other glass structures filled some of the back fields that terraced across the meadows to the Connecticut River. The new family settled into the attached two-story house. Margaret Quinn Bunk was a talented floral designer and for nearly a dozen years her husband George Bunk tended the more than 7,000 geranium and chrysanthemum plants grown annually. Their children helped with deliveries, making ribbon bows, and wrapping potted plants with shiny foil.
Ernest S. Clark, Jr. grew over 200 varieties of gladiolus in several fields in the Poquonock area. Newspaper advertisements in the 1930s invited gladiolus lovers to visit the fields and to attend the Connecticut Gladiolus Society shows at the Old State House in Hartford. Clark shipped glad bulbs all across the country. He was particularly active with this specialty business between 1929 and 1935, and then turned his attention to raising tobacco.
The Snelgrove family anchored local floriculture in Windsor Center for four generations. Edwin Snelgrove brought his family and his prized plants and settled on Maple Street in 1898. When fire badly damaged their home, he purchased the house at 175 Broad St. and several acres of adjacent land. His youngest son Sidney worked at several of the area nurseries during his teens, but by the time he graduated from John Fitch High School in 1925 he had set up his own business. He peddled cut flowers door-to-door and built greenhouses, ultimately as many as six structures, on his father’s property. He filled them with seasonal plants and greenery produced for the wholesale market. He and his wife Dorothy built the brick retail shop showroom at 181 Broad St. about 1935 and attracted customers with a large flashing FLORIST sign which Sidney won at a florist’s convention in Las Vegas. Like the other Windsor growers, Snelgrove Florist was a family business, with the extended family pitching in and even grandchildren helping with watering and by providing an extra pair of hands during the rush times. The business had a presence “On the Green” for over eighty years.
And today? McDermott’s property now holds a Geissler’s Supermarket and Creamery Brook runs in a culvert underneath the road. In 1957 Mott’s Supermarket was built on the site of Hallgren Brothers’ greenhouse. John Ward’s acreage is now home to landscaping company. The Palisado Greenhouses have been taken down and only the house remains. In Windsor Center, the Snelgrove house and greenhouses are also gone and it is hard to imagine that the now vacant lot could have held so many structures. Large-scale commercial growers have replaced the local greenhouse operations run by these Windsor families. The sale of plants and cut flowers in grocery stores and on the internet has also cut into the local retailers’ market.
Snelgrove Florist, with Timothy Snelgrove as the current proprietor, recently celebrated its 90th anniversary engaged in the florist trade. Their shop on Poquonock Avenue, and other local businesses such as Jordan Florist, demonstrates the diversification needed to be successful in this market today. They have added greeting cards, seasonal decorations, jams and preserves, gift baskets, and candy. Tim began making chocolates at age eleven, selling his creations to family and friends, and reinvesting his proceeds in more supplies and equipment. Today Snelgrove Florist makes upwards of 30,000 thousand pounds of chocolates and other candy annually.
Agricultural products have always been a key element in Windsor’s economy, but the specific crops and harvests have changed over time. The extensive market gardens in the Wilson area are no more, the dairy farms and butter manufactory have also vanished, the acres and acres of tobacco shrink more each year. The heyday of Windsor’s floriculture business lasted but one generation; however the pleasure of receiving fresh cut flowers is undiminished.
So many years in operation – so few photos of these wonderful floriculture businesses here at the Windsor Historical Society. If you have photos or memories which would enable us to more fully capture this piece of Windsor’s past, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Barbara Goodwin, librarian, 2014