Bicentennial Snapshot # 13: Asa Rowe, James Vick and the Beginning of the Nursery Industry

Rochester went from being the flour city to the Flower city.  But actually, the nursery industry in Monroe County started in Greece!

Topics and Facts in this Bicentennial Snapshot:

Interesting Facts

Question: Did you know Rochester went from being the flour city to the Flower city?

Answer: Actually, the nursery industry in Monroe County started in Greece. This was because of the amount of fertile land and the vast openness for the growth of Flowers, Produce, Fruits, and other plants that would grow in the region.

Question: What was Rochester known for first as the Flour or was it Flower?

The answer may surprise some of you it first was known as the flour city because of the gristmill that Ebenezer “Indian” Allen had at one point and in Aqueduct Park there is a sign that tells about the gristmill that was located at 47-59 E Main St, Rochester, NY 14614 which is the at the corner of East Main Street and Greaves St in the City of Rochester. The City then became known as the Flower City in 1859.

Asa Rowe (Brith: 25 Feb 1806, Death:23 Nov 1894 (aged 88) )

Asa Rowe
Learn more from this short paper on Asa Rowe, edited by Lee Strauss

Asa Rowe was born February 25, 1806, and was the son of Abel Rowe and Ame Hincher, and grandson of two of the first families of Greece. His father, Abel Rowe, and his grandparents Daniel and Ruth Granger Rowe were settlers at King’s Landing featured in the Bicentennial Snapshot number 4. His mother was Ame Hincher, the daughter of William and Mehitable Hincher; she came to Charlotte in 1792 with her parents and they were the first European settlers to reside west of the Genesee River.

Asa Rowe established the first nursery business in Monroe County in 1826 when he opened the Monroe Garden and Nursery on the north side of Ridge Road near where today, Mitchell, Long Pond, and Ridge Roads intersect.

His Dad Able Rowe ran the Rowe Tavern, more on the Rowe Tavern appeared in Bicentennials Snapshots 11 & 12 The Ridge parts 1 and 2, and 16 ADA Ridge.

Take a look at the images below, the first image is the cover of the Genesee Farmer, where Asa would place ads for the Monroe Horticultural Garden and Nurseries he ran. The next image in the slideshow is one of the ads Asa ran. The final image in this slideshow is the same ad but note the text that is in the odd style circle Asa mentions that he takes advantage of the Erie Canal otherwise Known as Clinton’s Ditch which will be explained in two weeks in the Bicentennial Snapshot # 15 – The Erie Canal.

Cover of the Genesee Farmer
Cover of the Genesee Farmer
Asa Rowe Ad in the Genesee Farmer Monroe Horticultural Garden
Asa Rowe’s Ad in the Genesee Farmer Monroe Horticultural Garden
Note the text In Purple Asa made use of the Erie Canal
Note the text In Purple Asa made use of the Erie Canal

James Vick (1818-1882) from Vick illustrated catalog
James Vick (1818-1882) from Vick illustrated catalog

James Vick (Born November 23, 1818 – Death 16 May 1882 (aged 63))

James Vick was born November 23, 1818, in Portsmouth, Portsmouth Unitary Authority, Hampshire, England to parents James Vick and Elizabeth Vick. James’s brothers were George Vick, William Vick, Joseph Henry Vick, and Charles Frederick Vick. George also had a knack for the seed business as well as his brother James. But for this snapshot, we will mostly focus on James Vick.

Coming from Portsmouth, Portsmouth Unitary Authority, Hampshire, England he did make one friend before leaving England any guesses as to what famous author was born in Landport, Portsmouth, United Kingdom?

It’s no other than the boyhood home of the famous author Charles Dickens the author of A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities as well as some other books. James Vick enjoyed having a lifelong friendship with Charles Dickens.

James Vick emigrated to America in 1833 with his father’s family. Like many of the Rochester horticulturists of the nineteenth century, Vick was closely entwined with the publishing world. He first came to Rochester from New York City in 1837 as a printer, and shortly thereafter became associated with the Genesee Farmer as a writer and editor, and finally as owner and publisher during the period 1849-1855. Also, James helps a famous Abolitionist in Rochester print his newspaper the North Star you are probably thinking of Frederick Douglas. If you were you are correct he help Frederick print his newspaper to help slaves make it to freedom and tell stories that would not be printed in the other papers at the time that the North Star was printed.

After the death of Andrew Jackson Downing, the great landscape architect, Vick purchased The Horticulturist from Downing’s estate and moved it to Rochester where he published it from 1853 to 1855 with Patrick Barry as editor. Vick later edited and published The Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory from 1856 to 1857 when he sold it to Joseph Harris who continued it until 1867. Vick also edited The Rural New Yorker from 1857 to 1862. While Vick was publishing and writing he was also experimenting with seeds in his spare time.

This sideline soon grew into a viable business venture and by 1866 Vick acquired some land on East Avenue, now Vick Park A and Vick Park B, and quickly developed this plot into one of the most famous seed gardens in the United States. Until 1870, he packed most of his seed in the attic of his home before moving to a four-story building at State and Market Streets.

The grand opening of his new headquarters was happily attended by many people, so many that hundreds had to be turned away at the door. The Union and Advertiser reported that “in the evening the crowd was fearful and the efforts of the police, who were detailed for that purpose, were tasked to their utmost to preserve order and to keep the stairs, halls, and rooms from being choked up with a struggling mass of humanity. “

Vick's Seed Warehouse at the corner of State and Market Streets
Vick’s Seed Warehouse at the corner of State and Market Streets
Vick’s Seed Farm in Greece at Manitou and the Erie Canal

Vick’s four sons, James Jr., Charles, Frank, and Edward, attended to the various affairs of the business. Edward supervised the storage of bulbs and seeds; Charles was in charge of the bindery; James Jr. was head of financial affairs, and Frank oversaw the packing room. James Vick’s two brothers, Joseph and William, were in charge of the company’s fifty-acre seed farm in Greece. At Vick’s seed farm on Manitou Road at the Erie Canal that the flag was created out of Aster Flowers and people would travel on the Erie Canal to just come to look at the display each year when springtime would come around.

By 1872 the Vick Seed Company was sending out more than 200,000 illustrated catalogs each year and was advertising in 3,300 newspapers and in all of the American agricultural and horticultural journals. The advertising bill in December 1870 amounted to $15,000. $4650 was spent just on stamps.

His thriving vegetable and flower bulb nursery was on Dewey Avenue where the Villa of Hope (formerly St. Joseph’s Villa) is located today.

Villa of Hope (formerly St. Joseph’s Villa)
Villa of Hope (formerly St. Joseph’s Villa)
The Greenhouses in this picture came from Vicks on Dewey Ave

Also, You won’t believe this but the greenhouses that were located at Vick’s were purchased by The Frears Family and sit at Frears’s Garden Center. We at the Greece Historical Society found that information out today with an interview with the grandson of E. Frear.

More on the Frear’s Garden center coming later on in its own snapshot. But for now, here is the Farwell To Frears Article with some additional photos of that garden center.

More on the Erie Canal in Snapshot # 15

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Co-Director of the Greece Historical Society's Information Technology Committee and Producer of the Bicentennial Snapshots