Saturday, March 18, 2017

1856 to1921 - Obituary for John Lewis Childs, Seedsman

This joyous nasturtium catalog cover is a fitting memorial to a fine seedsman.  
It is always interesting to get a glimpse of the individual as it is not easy to find personal information beyond the society page sort.  This obit shows  a man who was having trouble with with the "melting pot" theory of immigration as a strength of our country.


John Lewis Childs.

John Lewis Childs, well known mail order seedsman and gladiolus specialist of Floral Park. N. Y.. died March 5 of heart failure on the New York Central Railroad‘s Twentieth Century train between Albany and New York, returning from Los Angeles. Calif.

On February 11 he passed through Chicago en route to Los Angeles leaving on the Santa Fe Railroad's forenoon train the Missionary.   He then stated he had been unwell during the fall and early winter but had almost regained his normal health by a sojourn in Florida. He looked worn, as if from overwork, but was active, methodical and full of plans for future business.

Returning to Chicago from Los Angeles on the Santa Fe about 10 a. m., March 4, leaving on the Twentieth Century,  our representative, an old friend, spent upwards of an hour with him at the LaSalle street station and his health had apparently greatly improved. He spoke at length of general and trade conditions in Los Angeles and discussed various political and mercantile matters with all his usual vigor, among other things expressing himself as emphatically opposed to the presence of the Japanese in California, his objections being social as well as economic.

Mr. Childs was born in Maine in 1856 and at the age of 17 went to work in a greenhouse establishment at Queens. N. Y.    The following year he rented a few acres of land near the railroad, a mile and a half from Queens. and started business for himself as seedsman and florist. For five years it was uphill work but perseverance won out.   Subsequently the land occupied was purchased and from time to time more acreage was added. The railroad company built a station and at Mr. Child's request, it was called Floral Park. Greenhouses, storage houses and dwellings for employee followed in rapid succession. His mails became so large and important that the government established a post office at his place. Progress continued until Floral Park became a thriving village. built up mainly on this one industry. He early specialized in bulbous plants. on which he was well informed. At one time he had the most complete collection of garden lilies ever brought together in this country. but these were so persistent in running out that he was obliged to abandon the Long Island culture of most of them. He acquired the late E. V. Hallock’s fine strain of gladioli and gave a wonderful impetus to the culture of this plant.

The soil at Floral Park having been worn out by a long period of intensive cultivation, some years ago the plantations of gladioli and other specialties were removed to a large tract of land about 35 miles from the home establishment. The new place, with its station, post office and warehouses has been named Flowerfield, this growing and shipping point being reserved for the heaviest products. The principal business and offices are continued at Floral Park. which is only 20 minutes from the center of Manhattan by direct train service. The catalogues are printed and mailed at these headquarters and it was here the Mayflower ran a highly successful career so many years as an amateur gardening monthly, the paper being later sold to an Ohio concern. He also had a 10-acre seed growing branch at South Pasadena. Calif.

In his mail order business, Mr. Childs had a remarkable faculty in the selection of attractive common names for plants, many of which will be recalled by our readers as the cigar plant (Cuphea ignea), the Chinese lantern plant (Physalis Franchetii,) the black calla, Chinese wool plant, the wonder berry and many others, these names, well advertised, creating an extraordinary demand in most cases.  Perhaps the best example of his ability in this direction was in his purchase from Frank H. Banning, Kinsman, OH. of Gladiolus Reuben H. Warder, which he renamed America.

Besides the details of his great business and close personal attention to the wants of his customers. Mr. Childs found time to perform many public duties. He was a member of the state senate during 1894 and 1895. when that office was more important than that of congressman, New York state having more of the latter than of the former. He was a director in the Preferred Accident Insurance Company of New York. and for a long time treasurer of that well known institution. He was a director of the National Agency Company of New York. the Queens and Suffolk Fire Insurance Company. and of the Bank of Jamaica, a member of the board of managers. also treasurer and trustee of the Union Free School at Floral Park. He was a member of the Society of American Florists, the American Seed Trade Association and many other trade organizations.
He was greatly interested in wild birds and in means for their preservation and protection.

This lush illustration is from the back cover.