|Portrait of Peter
horticulturalist and founder of Peter Henderson & Co
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
Reprint of Henderson's 1887 catalog cover, on metal,
& Co. Advertisement
circa 1916 featuring the trademark image of the gentleman
gardener and the slogan: "Everything for the Garden."
This image was frequently used in Henderson print advertisements commonly found in newspapers.
Courtesy, C.A. Karnoutsos
Above: "The Greenhouse Establishment of Peter Henderson, Jersey City Heights".
One of Jersey City's most unusual and colorful industries in the mid-nineteenth century was market gardening. Carriages, and later trucks, carting off shipments of fresh, locally grown produce and cut flowers to nearby markets were once a commonplace sight on the streets of the city. Greenhouses and small gardens made use of undeveloped tracts of land across the otherwise industrial community and enterprising horticulturists employed intensive cultivation techniques to produce a wide variety of flowers, ornamental plants, and vegetables. Easily forgotten, these gardening operations contributed to the unique mix of Jersey City's diverse economy even though they left no notable landmark buildings or other physical traces of their activities.
Peter and James Henderson,
brothers and immigrants from Scotland, founded what ultimately became
two prosperous gardening businesses in Jersey City. Their companies
flourished by specializing in different niches in the market gardening
trade and by adopting cooperative business relationships with each other.
James Henderson, the older of the two, established a separate truck
farm for vegetables in the Greenville
section of Jersey City. James' own potential was cut short by his early
death, but his brother Peter came to be known to his peers as "the
father of horticulture and ornamental gardening" in the United
Beginnings in Jersey City
Peter (1822-1890) and James (c1818 -1857) Henderson were the sons of James, a land steward, and Agnes (Gilchrist) Henderson in Pathhead, twelve miles south of Edinburgh, Scotland. When their mother died c. 1830, Peter and James were taken care of by their sister Ann. Peter's career began at a young age as he pursued the gardening occupation of his father and maternal grandfather. He apprenticed under the tutelage of head gardener George Sterling for four years at age fifteen in the Melville Castle gardens near Dalkeith. Confident in his knowledge of plant identification, Sterling sent him to the nearby Ballantyne's Nursery to label herbaceous plants. Henderson's work in horticulture seemed to be settled when he submitted a herbarium of native and exotic plants to the Royal Botanical Society of Edinburgh in a competition in the whole of Great Britain for which he received a gold medal (Lanman 21).
In the spring of 1843 Peter Henderson, at age 21, immigrated to the United States to join his older brother James. Like Peter, James was involved in horticulture having taken a position to design a multi-acre rose garden on Du Fuskie/Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, between 1845 and 1847. Peter easily found employment as a gardener. He worked for George Thorburn's nursery and floral business in Astoria, Long Island, NY (1843-1844), for Robert Buist's Exotic Nursery in Philadelphia (1844-45), and designed and constructed a garden for Charles F. Spang in Pittsburgh (1845-1847). These work experiences expanded his career training and education in his chosen profession (Lanman 22).
In 1847 James and Peter joined their resources and moved to what was then Van Vorst Township (later part of Jersey City). The beginnings of their gardening and seed warehouse business consisted of three small greenhouses on approximately ten acres of rented land on Wayne Street near Monmouth Street. From here they marketed garden vegetables and ornamental plants to sell in New York City. The Jersey City Directories from 1849 to 1855 list a florist business called Van Vorst Gardens for James and Peter Henderson together or for either Peter or James. From 1856, the directories list Peter Henderson alone as operating a floral shop at 237 Wayne Street.
Making his mark on his newly adopted community, in 1851 Peter Henderson designed the Victorian-style Van Vorst Park for the town of Van Vorst close to the floral shop in present-day downtown Jersey City. The block-square park remains today as one of the main attractions of well-known historic districts in the city. That same year Peter Henderson married Emily Gibbons of Bath, England; the couple had three children, Alfred (1853), Isobel (1855), and Charles (1860). After his wife died at age 34 in 1868, he married Jean A. Reid, the daughter of an associate.
In 1852, Peter purchased property from Nicholas Vreeland at Claremont, in Bergen Township near the present-day Jersey City streets of Arlington, Randolph and Garfield Avenues. The Vreeland family owned extensive celery farms in the area and Arlington Avenue was known at that time as Vreeland Avenue.
During the 1850s tragedy befell the family of James Henderson: his children George and Belle died, soon followed by the death of his wife Emma (Trapp) Henderson in childbirth. James was remarried to his sister-in-law Margaret (Trapp) Henderson and he died in 1857. A nephew, Alfred Henderson, James "was an unusually popular and genial man" (11). He left his estate to his wife and son James Henry Henderson (1847-1913). It included two farms in today's Jersey City. The first was over a nine and one-half acre property on Bergen Point Plank Road (today Garfield Avenue), once the homestead of Abraham Vreeland. The second was over an eleven and one-half acre vegetable truck farm he had recently purchased from Benjamin Vandervoort for $7,000 on the Old Bergen Road. It was bounded approximately by the lines of the modern streets known as Bergen, Culver, Audubon, and West Side Avenues on Bergen Hill at Greenville.
After his father died, the ten year old James Henry Henderson apprenticed with his uncle Peter who tutored him in the greenhouse part of his business. The close family ties may have led to the common use of "Peter Henderson" as a recognizable trade name, even though both uncle and nephew operated their businesses independently. James Henry and later his son Peter Gilchrist Henderson continued the family-run proprietorship; its truck farming, greenhouse, and retail florist operations remained in Jersey City. According to Joseph Kastner, writing for Life magazine in 1947, the Peter Henderson Company "buys most of its seed from farmers with whom it has special contracts" (54). This may explain an ongoing relationship between Peter Henderson & Company on Garfield and Arlington Avenues and the James Henderson farm on Bergen Avenue until its sale in 1919.
Peter Gilchrist Henderson (1879-1946), the son of James Henry Henderson, continued his father's greenhouse and floral business with a ready market in New York City: "Year after year in the summer months the large tract of land between the greenhouse and homestead was a massive field of stock geraniums displaying acres of continuously blooming red, white and pink geraniums that brought much attention from flower lovers" (from Peter L. Henderson, September 10, 1975). One of the most endearing stories about Peter G. Henderson was that "He gave potted plants to poor children each Mother's Day so they might have a gift for their mothers" ("Peter Henderson." New York Times 6 July 1946). Peter Gilchrist Henderson also had political aspirations but was undoubtedly a better florist than politician. Henderson called himself an "unbossed Republican." He ran unsuccessfully as an independent in opposition to the New Jersey Republican Party in the 1916 primary election for governor against the Democrat Walter E. Edge.
After the death of James Henry Henderson in 1913, the Henderson estate, in separate sale transactions by the surviving family members of both Peter and James Henderson, was consolidated under the ownership of the Peter Henderson & Company. It had used the Hudson Boulevard property for its seed testing houses where farm seeds were tested for germination. The company sold the James Henderson property situated west of Hudson (now Kennedy) Boulevard between Audubon and Culver avenues in 1919 to the Federal Ship Building Co. of Hoboken. After taking possession of the property, the ship building company sold certain portions of the land to the State of New Jersey for a normal school (the site of the Jersey City Normal School, now New Jersey City University) in 1922.
Around 1923, the Henderson
lands on the east side of the Boulevard and west of Bergen Avenue were
among the properties being acquired by Jersey City for the construction
of several new schools including : the Home for Crippled Children (now
the A. Harry Moore School)
and the Jersey City Junior School (now Snyder
After these events, Peter Gilchrist Henderson moved across the street from his old homestead into a newer house at 192 Bergen Avenue. Purchasing the greenhouses of Henry Leach at Garfield and Bayview Avenues, he was able to continue to operate his business. Peter remarried in 1940; but he died several years later on July 5, 1946. His widow took over, but she eventually sold the property, closing out the James Henderson branch of the Jersey City greenhouse and florist enterprise.
After establishing his company in Jersey City, Peter Henderson took advantage of the city's proximity to the growing sales market in New York City. In 1853 he opened an office with McIlvain & Orr at 9 John Street where he sold seasonal vegetable plants. Later he developed a system to grow plants for daily auctions to promote the sales of house plants and flowers. During the Civil War, Henderson anticipated postwar growth for the nation and wished to introduce his brand of market gardening in the United States. There were few rival seed companies, leaving a wide berth for Henderson to carve his career. Among the companies founded during the early nineteenth century were Comstock, Ferre & Co. and Henry A. Deere, who reportedly produced "the first colored illustration ever used in American catalogs" (Schapaugh 35). Among his other contemporaries were the W. Altee Burpee Company that imported flower and vegetable seeds from Europe, Vaughan's Seed Company, Northrup King & Co., and Joseph Breck & Sons.
In 1862 Henderson moved his office to the seed store of James Fleming and William Davidson, also Scotsmen, at 67 Nassau Street. He abandoned the plant auctions and directed his attention to the expansion of his seed department through the publication of annual plant catalogues and newspaper advertisements. The following year,on the New Jersey side, he moved the business to South Bergen on Arlington (former Vreeland) and Garfield avenues. Here he purchased ten acres in the vicinity of his home on Arlington Avenue and had twelve heated and ventilated greenhouses, pits and frames. By 1880 they were replaced by the "most up-to-date greenhouses," lined on either side of Randolph Avenue and known nationwide by florists. A one-story brick building served as Henderson's office (Lanman 30). The transport of the flowers, plants and mail catalogs were carried out of Jersey City via its railway and water connections. Railroads like the Erie, Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley, Susquehanna and Baltimore and Ohio all converged in Jersey City. The Morris Canal supported cargo travel of Henderson's plantings and produce through New Jersey to Pennsylvania across the Delaware River (Lanman 31).
How Peter Henderson applied his entrepreneurial skills to "the commercialization of horticulture" is the subject of a detailed article by Susan Warren Lanman. She relates how Jersey City was the "ideal venue for market gardening" (23) for Henderson's future success. Among the factors she explains are the city's location to nearby New York City with a growing population and a capacity for the purchase of luxury items such as long-stem roses and quality vegetables as food staples. At the same time, when Henderson was developing his business in the 1860s, Jersey City had not yet developed a full ferry service across the Hudson River nor reclaimed its shoreline property. Property values were reasonable for the acreage required for market gardening and greenhouses near an urban population. The nation's reduced tariff rates on imports made more affordable the purchase of lower priced window glass from England, Belgium and France for the "portable glazed wooden frames" used to protect young crops.
Henderson also capitalized on Jersey City's industrial waste and byproducts that furnished him with the essential ingredients for commercial farming. He took advantage of the discarded materials of several Jersey City manufacturers and reused them in innovative ways. Among the byproducts were the hops refuse from Lembeck & Betz Eagle Brewing Company, Cox's Brewery and Palisade Brewery for fertilizer and mulch. "Sugar house scum" from the New Jersey Refining Company, Havemeyer Sugar Company and Nathaniel Tooker's Molasses House and stems of cured tobacco ribs for insecticide from P. Lorillard Tobacco Factory were put to use in the Henderson gardens. The city's stockyard operation offered manure and animal bonemeal for phosphorous that Henderson processed in his own blend of nutrients to replenish the soil required for various seed and plant cultivation. Lanman concludes that Jersey City offered a "symbiotic relationship" between its manufacturers and market gardening (24). The city's immigrant population also supplied the workers for the labor-intensive industry and fulfilled what Lanman calls "the classic triangle of land, labor and capital" for successful entrepreneurs (25). Henderson employed over one-hundred workers including women for packaging the vast number of catalog orders.
In 1865 Henderson bought out William Davidson's shares of the Nassau Street store and began Henderson and Fleming. When that partnership dissolved, Peter Henderson & Company was founded in 1871. Henderson moved into a brick and stone five-story building at 35-37 Cortlandt Street. The roofline of the facade had a decorative cornice flanked by large brackets. The name "Peter Henderson& Co." was etched on a frieze above the store front of full glass. Large recessed windows defined the four floors above the store. The building was on the site of the future World Trade Center towers. Partners in the firm were Peter Henderson with his son Alfred (1853-1899) and William H. Carson in 1871. Five years later Carson left the company and James Reid became a partner until his death in 1887, when Peter's son Charles (1860-1939) became a partner.
The New York City store sold seeds, plants and bulbs and functioned as an outlet for the greenhouses in Jersey City. Here Henderson cultivated plants, flowers and vegetables for the marketing of seeds appropriate to various growing zones in the United States, setting the standard for the marketing of seed catalogs and seed testing. He adapted plants from around the world to the American environment. The zinnia from Mexico soon became familiar in American gardens. One of his favorites was the pansy, which he cultivated experimentally until he produced a premier strain in 1884 and later the popular Giant Butterfly mixture. On the grounds and in the greenhouses close to his Arlington Avenue home, Henderson produced tens of thousands of beets, beans, onions, peas, radishes, and three million flowering plants.
With the availability of new plants and their varieties, the company distributed its first catalog in 1871 with a color illustration of verbenas. Approximately 750,000 catalogs were issued each January for the advancement of commercial and home gardening. The arrival of the illustrated catalog in the midst of winter was a harbinger of spring. Each year recipients looked forward to his improved strains of vegetables and flowers. Examples of his new offerings for planting were: the Trophy Tomato (1872), Early Summer Cabbage (1875), Sunset Tea Rose (1880), American Wonder pea (1882), Premier Pansy and White Plume Celery (1884), Henderson's Sugar Corn, New Rose Celery (1885), New York Lettuce (forerunner of Iceberg lettuce) and Palmetto Asparagus (1886), American Banner Rose, Highland Pansy, Butterfly Pansy, and Trocadero (Big Boston) Lettuce (1887), and Dinsmore Rose (1888). His last major commercial advance for vegetable growers was the Henderson Bush Lima Bean (1889) that no longer required support poles for cultivation.
The catalogs shared with gardeners Henderson's latest horticultural studies and techniques serving as instructional guides. The five-color lithograph plates made the catalogs popular collectibles and pleased the casual browser to whom it imparted the themes that home gardening benefited the economy, conservation and beautification. His motto "everything for the garden" encapsulated the model for today's marketing practice of one-stop shopping through advertising in his catalogs (Scripps 8). It was a market strategy for all gardening supplies, tools and even the Henderson Featherweight Lawn Mower, designed by Henderson himself, to be purchased through the Henderson catalogs.
Henderson's writings recorded his studies and experiments and reveal his desire to share his work with professional and recreational gardeners. He wrote his first article for C.M. Hovey's Magazine of Horticulture (Boston). Journal articles followed in Gardener's Monthly (Philadelphia); Horticulturist (New York), and American Agriculturist, among others. His first book was Gardening for Profit. It was known by gardeners as the "bible" for fifty years that Henderson claimed he wrote in one hundred hours. Published in 1866 (revised in 1874 and 1886) by Orange Judd of the American Agriculturist, it was the first book with "straightforward, lucid instructions on market gardening," writes Lanman (32). In the "Introduction" of Gardening for Profit, Henderson explains his foray into writing his books: "I have some pride . . . that I had a working experience in all departments of gardening, from my earliest boyhood, and even to-day am far more at home in its manual operations than in literature, and have been induced to write the following pages at the repeated solicitations of friends and correspondents, to whose inquiries relative to my commercial gardening, my time will no long allow me to reply individually" (vii). Gardening for Profit was also reportedly significant for encouraging the profitability of market gardening to Civil War veterans, especially in the South (Becker 26).
The popularity of Gardening for Profit encouraged Henderson to publish a number of works but did not replace his correspondence to would-be planters. A companion book to Gardening for Profit was Practical Floriculture: A Guide to the Successful Cultivation of Florists' Plants for the Amateur and Professional Florist (1869) to promote commercial gardening. Gardening for Pleasure (1875) encouraged the home gardener to grow flowers, vegetable and fruits. In a later edition of the book (1901), there is an illustration of Henderson's "White Plume Celery" that he introduced in 1884. He extolls its virtues as "unsurpassed in flavor" and describes how it "excels all other vegetables as an ornament for the dinner table, its graceful white leaves resembling somewhat an ostrich feather" (322-324). Henderson's enthusiasm for the celery plant, he writes, is that "If I am fitted to instruct on the cultivation of any vegetable, it is this, as for many years I have cultivated nearly half a million roots annually, and this experience has resulted in greatly simplifying the operation" (318). Henderson recognized and took advantage of the suitable growing conditions for celery on his grounds near the Greenville section of Jersey City, an area that had once been commonly called "Celeryville" by local residents.
Henderson's Hand Book of Plants (1881) was a gardening encyclopedia that included botanical classifications and propagation of ornamental plants. Garden and Farm Topics (1884) was a compilation of forty-three previously-published essays and addresses to the New York Horticultural Society or the National Association of Nurserymen, Florists and Seedsmen. His last publication was Henderson's Handbook of Plants and General Horticulture (1889); it was a revised and expanded version of his first handbook. He was said to have written some 175,000 letters to home gardeners who sought his advice about the planting and care of their vegetable and flowers. Imagery of his products in lavish garden settings or in close-ups, neat rows of his plantings and acres of greenhouses appear in his publications as photographic advertising of his commercial success.
To promote his New York trade, Henderson frequently entered his plants and flowers in garden competitions. He showed his potato at the fall exhibition of the New York Horticultural Society held at Madison Square Garden in 1879. He also displayed a variety of grapes and received awards for his seedling potato and collection of tomatoes. In 1887 Henderson sponsored his first annual plant and flower show at the Cortlandt Street store. It drew crowds of women who admired the display of flowers such as geraniums, dahlias, and especially the gladiolas of 3,000 to 4,000 varieties and the insect trapping "cruel plant." Following the exhibit, the plants were dispersed among the local hospitals.
Henderson's prodigious amount of work is attributed to his often-mentioned sixteen-hour days. He is described as "a tall, broad-shouldered man, erect in bearing, who walked and moved rapidly" (Becker 27). He abstained from liquor and tobacco and maintained a daily regimen to commute to work. He walked to the Jersey City boat landing for the short ferry ride to New York City and from the New York ferry slip to his Cortlandt Street store three blocks away. He divided his time between the store in lower Manhattan and the greenhouses in Jersey City and reportedly worked on his books and catalogs during noon and in the hours before he retired. No task was too menial; he labored among his employees, who were expected to work a sixty-hour week, on cuttings, potting, staking and labeling of plants with hand-tooled cedar wood tallies. In recognition of the large number of Irish workers in his employ, Henderson granted a holiday on St. Patrick's day; the other holiday was on New Year's day (Lanman 37).
His inspiration for horticultural experimentation came from his contemporaries the naturalist Charles Darwin and geneticist Gregor Mendel, whose works he admired and incorporated into his own approach to his specialization. Among his experiments was to sow seeds in the soil rather than germinate them in cloth as was the usual method of seedsmen (Scripps 7). He was a friend of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, also a Scotsman, with whom he identified from a similar immigrant experience and zest for productivity in the American marketplace. He was also particularly fond of the notable late-nineteenth century preacher and theologian Reverend Henry Ward Beecher of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn with whom he shared gardening interests.
Civic-minded, but not directly involved in local politics, Henderson was a member of the Lincoln Association of Jersey City, the Society of American Florists, the New York Florists' Club, Seed Dealers' Association of the United States, Bergen Volunteer Fire Department, Engine No. 5, and chairman of the finance committee of the Bergen Improvement Association. According to Robert F. Becker, "He helped reorganize the New York Horticultural Society and served on its Executive Committee. At Society meetings he was a frequent exhibitor of new and unusual plant material, helping to educate fellow members" (77). Becker further captures Henderson's drive to bring others along to the new findings he discovered: "Henderson was not afraid to challenge the horticultural theory and practice of his day. He was an experimenter and a keen scientific observer who always wrote from firsthand experiences. He thought in practical terms and, when discussing commercial production and marketing, wrote from personal observation" (77).
On January 17, 1890, Peter Henderson died after a brief illness at his home on Arlington Avenue in Jersey City. He was buried from the First Presbyterian Church on Emory Street and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. At the time of his death, name of Peter Henderson was synonymous with gardening: "His was thought to be the largest, and was certainly the best appointed establishment of the kind in the world" (Jersey Journal 17 January 1890).
Peter Henderson owned a substantial amount of property as specified in his will probated April 29, 1890. He left to his wife Jean their property and home at Arlington and Bramhall Avenues, eleven houses and lots in Jersey City on Ocean, Madison, and Jackson Avenue as well royalties from his publications. To his daughter Isobel Henderson Floyd, he bequeathed eighteen houses and lots. The Cortlandt Street property in New York City was given to his sons Alfred and Charles as was the Jersey City plant and florist property in the vicinity of Arlington and Randolph Avenues.
Peter Henderson's two sons Alfred and Charles each succeeded in turn as president of the gardening business. Alfred Henderson, Peter Henderson's first son, became president in 1890 after his father's death. One of his first business decisions was to incorporate the company in the State of New Jersey, with its principal office at 15 Exchange Place, Jersey City, on August 6, 1890, at a valuation of $500,000.
Alfred Henderson also contributed to the family business his talent for writing, advertising and promotion. He published the book Peter Henderson Gardener, Author, Merchant: A Memoir (1890), a biographical tribute to his father within the same year of his death. Alfred also expanded the business with his novel promotions and advertisements. In 1893, he prepared lawns for display at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago to demonstrate the Henderson Lawn Grass Seed and received a gold medal for the product.
The Henderson Company updated and advanced the company's trademark advertisement of a neatly dressed gentleman gardener with apron and wheelbarrow and variations of the slogan "Henderson Seeds are Tested Seeds." The gardener, often assumed to be Peter Henderson, was actually a clerk at the Henderson firm. The trademark image accompanied advertisements in catalogs and newspapers, like the New York Times, for decades.
On the early morning of August 20, 1899, the Cortlandt Street store suffered a damaging three-alarm fire that started in the sub-basement where flower bulbs and seeds were stored. While the fire was contained in the cellar, twelve firemen were overcome by the smoke and gas emanating from the broken gas pipes. Only fifteen days after the fire, Alfred, age fifty, died at his home in Spring Lake, NJ. It is said that the burden of the damages of approximately $100,000 caused by the fire accelerated his brief illness after the fire.
Charles Henderson, Peter Henderson's second son, became the company's next president in 1899. Young Charles had attended the Hasbrouck Institute, Jersey City's prestigious preparatory school. He worked in the Jersey City greenhouses from an early age, developed an expertise in horticulture and eventually headed the greenhouse department. Charles published horticultural books such as Henderson's Picturesque Gardens and Ornamental Gardening (1901, 1908).
During his tenure as president, Charles Henderson expanded the business and received many awards for Henderson products at events such as the Lewis-Clark Exposition in 1905. An issue of Henderson's Farmers Manual (1916) includes photographs of the Henderson three-story warehouses and the seed cleaning plant located on Garfield Avenue. Here orders were filled, grass seeds were mixed, peas and beans were sorted, and potato cellars maintained in the basement. Charles Henderson writes in the manual: "Our seed storehouses in Jersey City have a capacity of 750,000 bushels, and are now filled with seeds of the choicest quality, and the highest germinative [sic] power. We test our seeds, both in our testing houses, and also in 'mother earth' the natural way, at our Trial Grounds 60 acres in extent, at Hudson Boulevard, Jersey City, and Hackensack, N.J." (1). He also faced a strike in September 1917 by seventy-three employees over hours and wages. Putting pressure on the company was the loss of workers to the military due to World War I. The stalemate resulted in moving to other sites such as Redbank, NJ, and changing the Jersey City operation to one of storage in both the warehouses and greenhouses at the Arlington Avenue location.
Charles Henderson retired in July 1919 and was succeeded by his nephew Peter Henderson II (1888-1944); he was elected president of Peter Henderson & Company and served in that role until 1939 when he became chairman of the board. A grandson of the founder Peter Henderson and son of Alfred Henderson, Peter Henderson II graduated from Yale University in 1912 and started to work at the seed firm while his uncle Charles Henderson was president; he served in the Army Air Corps during World War I.
Working with Peter Henderson II was his cousin Howard M. Henderson (1891-1930); he was the son of Charles Henderson and became the general manager and vice president in 1920. He had attended Cornell University where he studied horticulture and agriculture. He expanded the business with the production of Golf and Sports Turf. In 1924 the company collaborated with Westinghouse Lamp Company in an experiment on the use of electric light to force the growth of 500 flower bulbs using 8-watt Mazda lamps in reflectors for seasonal Easter plants like tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, narcissi and Easter lilies.
The Depression years were difficult for the company. Howard Henderson was tragically killed in an automobile accident in California. The estate of Peter Henderson, represented by Charles Henderson, began to sell various properties in Jersey City including the four two-story dwellings at 1028-1034 Garfield Avenue to the Long Island Realty Co. in 1934. The following year, property on Arlington and Randolph avenues to Garfield Avenue and a corner plot at Arlington Avenue at Grand Street were sold to the Dorsey Realty Syndicate. In turn, the property was sold to the Arlington Park Corporation for housing. Included in this parcel was the original Victorian frame mansion of the Henderson patriarch on the west side of Arlington Avenue and trial grounds from Arlington Avenue to Grand Street.
The company was rewarded for its perseverance during the Depression as by 1939 it experienced a rise in sales, particularly in ornamental gardening. In the late 1940s, it was a nationwide mail-order business with a large market share of the gardening trade. The company listed its headquarters at 1010 Garfield Avenue in Jersey City and kept its warehouses on Garfield. The original offices and warehouse remained at Cortlandt Street in New York City, and seed farms were located Redbank, NJ, and elsewhere.
When Peter Henderson II died in 1944, he would be the last Henderson to head Peter Henderson & Company. His two sons were in the military, and a non-family member Harry Candy, who had joined the company in 1909 and rose through the ranks, became president in 1939. He was succeeded in 1946 by John A. Fieseler, a long time employee since 1903. Through the war years and after, the company tried to maintain the standards of founder Peter Henderson. The popularity of victory gardens for growing food during World War II placed such demands on the company to fill an unprecedented number of orders that it required a temporary stoppage of other aspects of the business.
In 1947 during the centennial year of Henderson's work, the company received the gold medal of achievement from the Horticultural Society of New York. It grossed about $1,500,000 annually with a net profit of ten percent. Several horticultural magazines ran feature articles about Henderson's contribution. Joseph Kastner for Life magazine describes the Cortlandt Street store: "At the store counters gray-haired clerks weigh out bulk seed in scales that were there when the store opened in 1871. In the offices bookkeepers still sit on high stools in tiny cubicles. In the flower department skilled maiden ladies fill each packet of seed by hand, using little ivory measuring spoons of different sizes for different-sized seeds"(55).
Holding onto outmoded practices could not sustain the company for long. Economic pressures and competition from other seed companies challenged its survival. One appraisal is that it had lost the forward-looking approach of its founder: "Unfortunately, lacking the innovation and progressive influence of Peter Henderson, the company failed to adjust to the changing business requirements of the mid-20th century, continuing to do business by traditional methods, in antiquated offices and warehouses" (Becker 26).
In an attempt to save the business in 1951, it merged with the Stumpp & Walter Company of Morristown, NJ, a seed firm known for sales to golf clubs and retail stores. The company closed in 1953; however, the work and legacy of Henderson remains. According to Robert F. Becker of The American Horticulturist, "Henderson was an extraordinary teacher, leader, and guide, who helped pave the way for horticulture to emerge as a true science and to keep pace with the age of modern technology" (28). He established a nationwide reputation for ornamental gardening and seed catalogs that was unprecedented for its time.
"A Flower That
Catches Flies." New York Times 11 August 1887.
Acknowledgment: Staff of the Guarini Library of NJCU, particularly Michele Hoban and James Brown of the Inter-Library Loan Department; resources of the Joan D. Lovero Collection, New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library and assistance of Department Head Cynthia Harris and John Beekman; also, resources of the New York Historical Society, and assistance of Katherine Powis of New York Horticultural Society.
| By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub