Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Seed Empire and 700 Stuffed Birds! - John Lewis Childs

Continuing my ramblings on Long Island...

Most of the seedsman and florists in the Floral Park area supplied  local customers.  You can see on the map how convenient it was to get to New York City.  However, the annual or semiannual catalogs issued by J. L. Childs targeted a wider audience.

(There were other seedsmen in the area who had wide audiences for their catalogs, Miss Mary Martin and John Roscoe Fuller. Fuller was Childs’ brother-in-law and lived next door to Childs. Miss Martin lived only a mile away on Jericho Road.)

I found a history of Long Island which has good coverage of Childs' business and life.  A truly remarkable man who seemed to have clearly seen the steps he needed to make in order to support a large, complex business. 


The text below from (History of Long Island: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time-1903); links and images added...


The year after Childs moved to New York he rented a few acres of ground a mile and a half from Queens, on the railroad line, and began business as a seedsman and florist. 

The total sales from his first catalogue or price-list—a publication of eight pages—was barely fifty dollars, and it was five years before his business showed signs of rapid growth, but after that his trade increased extensively. 

Mr. Childs then purchased the land he occupied and from time to time added to it. The railroad company soon established a new station on his premises, which at Mr. Childs' request was called Floral Park. 

It became necessary to build bulb and seed houses, greenhouses, dwellings and a large store to accommodate his business.

 His mail became so large and important that the government established a postoffice at his place and the work of building continued until now Floral Park is a village built up entirely by this one industry, which can boast of being the largest and best regulated business of this kind in the world. 

Mr. Childs gives close attention to every detail of his great business and that of the publication of the "Mayflower," a magazine of great value to any engaged in floral culture. 

He takes personal interest in the welfare of every customer and his great anxiety is that they may succeed to the fullest degree with the seeds and plants they procure from his establishment. 




It was for the purpose of educating people in the art of floral culture and gardening that he commenced the "Mayflower," and in this respect the magazine is doing great work.


Besides the details of his great business and close personal attention to the wants of his customers, Mr. Childs finds time to perform many public duties. He was a member of the state senate during 1894-5, when that office was more important than that of congressman.

He is a director in the Preferred Accident Insurance Company of New York, and through a long period was its treasurer. He is a director of the National Agency Company, of New York, the Queens and Suffolk Fire Insurance Company and of the Bank of Jamaica, is treasurer of the State Normal School at Jamaica and a member of its board of managers, while of the Union free school at Floral Park he is treasurer and trustee, and president of the Floral Park Fire Company. In the line of his business he is a member of the Society of American Florists, the American Seedsman Association, the American Dahlia Society and the Linnaean Society and Scientific Alliance, of New York.



Above: the Floral Park School in 1894




He is a close student of natural history and takes particular interest in wild birds and in means for their preservation and protection.      In his large private office at Floral Park is a collection of fully seven hundred different species of native birds, beautifully mounted and named and classified scientifically. There is also a large collection of birds' eggs, butterflies, beetles, shells, stones, minerals and curious cones and seed vessels.   

While he has personally collected many of these during his travels, many have also been sent to him (understatement!) by friends and customers from all over the world, and he has in his collection birds which cannot be found in any other collection, public or private. (From Wikipedia: Childs maintained one of the largest private ornithology libraries in the United States, and had more than 700 personally collected specimens in his collection. He was also a friend of John Burroughs, who contributed articles on birds to Childs’ magazine called The Warbler .



Mr. Childs was married in Washingtonville, Orange county. New York, on the 15th of April, 1886, the lady of his choice being Miss Carrie Goldsmith, a daughter of Kienzi A. and Julia N. Goldsmith, who are now residents of Floral Park. The marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Childs has been blessed with four children: Vernon G., Norma D., Lyon L. and Carlton H. Socially Mr. Childs is connected with Jamaica Lodge, No. 546, F. & A. M., and with Floral Park Council of the Royal Arcanum. He is also a consistent member of the Methodist Episcopal church at Floral Park. A man of broad humanitarian spirit, he is deeply interested in everything that will promote the welfare and happiness of his fellow men and has done much to advance intellectual, esthetic and moral culture. His life work has certainly been crowned with a high degree of success, and while he has amassed a fortune he has still kept in close touch with his fellow men and finds his greatest pleasure in using his wealth for the benefit of others.


This history of Mr. Childs would be incomplete without further mention of his first work, and it is a pleasure to the historian to record an account of the mammoth enterprise which he has built up. Floral Park is located on Long Island, fifteen miles from the heart of Brooklyn, and is now partly included in the territory recently annexed to New York city. 

The village, which has been built up by the business of Mr. Childs, has a fine school, church, hotel, stores, markets and a system of water works. It is one of the most healthful and certainly one of the most beautiful spots in the vicinity of New York. The gardens at Floral Pork cover almost two hundred acres, all in flowers. These gardens border on the Long Island Railroad for a distance of more than a mile, and the magnitude of the floral display is not equalled in America and probably not in the world. The land is perfectly flat, of a sandy nature and particularly well adapted to gardening.

Mr. Childs receives and ships on an average several tons of mail matter each day. This enormous business has placed theFloral Park postoffice in the first-class, ranking with such offices as Chicago. Boston, Baltimore and other large cities. No better idea of the amount of business done by Mr. Childs can be had than is found in the fact that it is sufficient to support a postoffice of the first class.

The great seed and florist business is accommodated with a railroad station and freight office close at hand. There are thirty trains each way per day to and from the heart of the city, both to and from the New York and Brooklyn divisions, also telegraph and telephone connections with all parts of the country, and several express companies receive and deliver goods.






The main building is an immense four-story and basement building, built of brick and iron, and consequently fire proof. This is probably the finest and best equipped seed store in the world. It is heated by steam and lighted by gas, and has all modern appliances for executing business accurately and with dispatch. In this building arc located all the business offices, the seed department, which occupies the entire third floor, and the packing and mailing department, which occupies all of the first floor as well as the great brick packing room in the rear of the building.

The seed house. No. 2. is a frame building.with a large amount of floor space, used for storing, cleaning and drying seeds and for making boxes, it is located about five hundred feet from the brick building, and, like it, has an immense cellar for bulbs and a large range of greenhouses connecting with it in the rear.



The bulb house is a large brick building one hundred by forty feet, three stories and a basement, used solely for storing bulbs. During the late fall and winter it is filled with gladiolus bulbs from top to bottom, which the late winter and spring sales reduce. The small bulbs which are not sold are planted in the spring and again fill this immense building when harvested in the fall.

 The greenhouses are very extensive and are divided into four sections or blocks. There is a set of five large houses, some of which are two hundred feet long by twenty feet wide, in the rear of the great fire-proof seed house ; a set of nine houses in the rear of seed house No. 2: in another location there is another set of eight houses, and on the lawn there is another set of eight fancy houses used largely for rare and fancy plants.


There is a complete system of brick cold sheds connected with the packing department of the big seed house. In these sheds large quantities of shrubs, fruit trees and hardy perennial plants are stored that they may be available for filling southern. Pacific or foreign orders at any time during the winter. Besides the buildings above mentioned there are fifteen or twenty more of various sizes, which are used for various purposes in connection with the business. One of these is a large farm house, with barns and stables, where the horses which are used on the place are kept. Mr. Childs also has a steam lumber and planing mill, with all the necessary machinery for preparing lumber for building purposes. The large amount of building it has been necessary to do in building up Floral Park rendered such a mill quite necessary.
Mr. Childs' foreign trade is so extensive that he has an agent in Liverpool and one in Auckland. New Zealand. All orders for England, Ireland and Scotland are packed separately and sent to the Liverpool agent, who forwards each parcel to its destination. All shipments for Australia and New Zealand go through the Auckland agency in like manner. Goods for Newfoundland go through the shipping agent at St. John. Mr. Childs also has a great number of customers in the different European countries—in Africa, India, China, Japan, South America, Mexico. West India Islands, and, in fact, every quarter of the globe.

The lawns at Floral Park surrounding Mr. Childs' residence and seed stores cover an area of nine acres and are artistically laid out and beautifully stocked with rare trees, shrubs and plants. There are over three hundred different varieties of flowering shrubs. The lawn also contains several beautiful summer houses or pagodas, fountains and an artificial aquarium for rare water lilies. The trial and experiment gardens which Mr. Childs conducts for himself and the "Mayflower" are very extensive. All sorts of seeds, plants, fruits and vegetables are tested, various experiments made, diseases and insects treated. The state of New York has also established its trial and experiment gardens at Floral Park, on Mr. Childs' premises, and the two working in harmony afford the most complete and scientific establishment of the sort in the country.


Three catalogues are issued each year at a total cost, when mailed, of about nine thousand dollars. A regular spring catalogue is issued on the, 1st of January, is sent to all regular customers, and requires an edition of five hundred thousand copies. On the 1st of February a five-hundred thousand edition catalogue of specialties and novelties is issued, and on the 1st of September appears the full catalogue of hardy bulbs for fall planting and winter blooming. All the work of printing is done on the presses of the "Mayflower." and thus there is a great economy in the cost of issuing the catalogues. Fifteen years ago the first number of the "Mayflower" appeared.


 It is a monthly magazine devoted to flowers and gardening. In 1894 the business of publishing had become so great that a regular publishing company was organized, with Mr. Childs at its head. A substantial brick building, one hundred and fifty feet long by forty feet wide, was erected and fitted with all modern machinery for the publishing business. The power is furnished by a powerful steam engine and light by an electric dynamo in the building. Seven presses of various sizes are employed, one of which is a sixteen thousand dollar rotary Web, capable of printing and folding eighty thousand copies of the "Mayflower" per day. The other machinery consists of three trimmers or cutters, five stitching machines, two folding machines, a grinder, a powerful steam pump and a complete electrotyping outfit. The composition of the "Mayflower" and catalogue work is not only done here, but the electrotypes are made and finished for the presses.

At this establishment all of Mr. Childs' job printing is done, including the mammoth editions of his handsome catalogues each spring and fall,
From January until June and from September until December are the busy months at Floral Park. During ibis period of nine months it is not unusual for Mr. Childs to receive as high as from eight to ten thousand letters in a single day. The work of shipping and filing the letters is most complete and systematic, so that if references at a later date is wanted for any order previously received it can be made in about a minute. An experienced artist is constantly employed at Floral Park in sketching and photographing flowers and plants, drawing designs for cuts and painting for colored plates.

Throughout the country at different times, in almost every town or village, has appeared in the local papers an account of the great establishment owned and controlled by Mr. Childs. A paper published at Lincoln. New Mexico, said: "That Mr. Childs would succeed in his chosen vocation was from the first for many reasons a foregone conclusion. He has always made the interests of his customers his own. Instead of giving as little as possible for a dollar, he has given more that his customers had a right to expect."

From Florida comes the following: 'It is hardly necessary to add that so enormous a business as Mr. Childs' could be built up only by furnishing a strictly high grade of goods and treating customers in such a manner as to convert them into constant patrons." While from a Rochester, New York, paper we quote the following: "Well may he feel encouraged in his efforts to make people happier through the refining influences of  flowers, when he daily reads the expressions of appreciation in the countless testimonials which reach him from every quarter of the globe, a deserving tribute to his grand enterprise and wondrous energy."

In far-off South Dakota an editor wrote: "The man whose enterprise, taste and skill has brought the rare, the choice, the costly within the reach of the humblest home may be considered a public benefactor. The greenhouses and flower gardens, the acres of roses, lilies and gladioli at Floral Park are worth a pilgrimage to see."


The esteem in which Mr. Child is held among his own people is shown from the following taken from the Patchogue "Advance," published at Palchogue, Long Island, about ten years ago: "Public men are often manufactured in these days of newspaper booming; yet there are men whose names are public subjects in every household throughout the land that were not made public this way. ( hie of the latter is the builder of Floral Park, Mr. John Lewis Childs. He needs no introduction. Every farmer, mechanic, business man and all others who are anxious for the welfare of this rapidly growing island knows Mr. Childs. They know: him as a man of integrity. whose every act during the nineteen years of his life spent on Long Island has become a living monumental record in the minds of fair thinking and unprejudiced men."