Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: Greenhouses and Nurseries in Jefferson County

Matson Insurance has partnered with Jefferson County History Center to offer exploreJeffersonpa.com readers a look into Jefferson County’s past. Today, the history of greenhouses and nurseries in Jefferson County are highlighted.

[Pictured above: Palmier’s Greenhouse sat in the valley for perhaps five decades. Once the spot where 65,000 geraniums grew annually, the greenhouse was torn down in April of 1979. (McMurray Collection, JCHS)]

(Article submitted by Carole Briggs, Jefferson County Historical Society.)

SEEDS AND SETS

April and May are the months to plant onion sets, lettuce seeds, and peas. Burpee began selling seeds in 1876 and iceberg lettuce was first popularized in 1894. But where did Jefferson County folks get their onion sets and seedlings?

Commercial greenhouses first appeared in our community during the first part of the 20th century. Large greenhouses like Palmier’s, and, later, small ones like Chitester’s, provided local gardeners with their tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, and pepper plants. Hardware and feed stores sold onion sets and seeds.

Anthony and Felix Palmier built their large greenhouse on the flats between Mabon Street and the Sandy Lick in the 1920s. Later, Tony took a Penn State horticulture course and began propagating geraniums. Eventually growing 65,000 annually, the geraniums became “big business.” The greenhouse closed in the early 1970s and was finally torn down in 1979.

Like me, Jean Chitester liked to play in dirt. She would germinate seedlings in the basement, then move them to a chicken coop. When they froze one year, she asked her husband, Devere or “Curly,” to build her a proper “glass” house. He did in 1958, and when he had a question, he visited Tony Palmier.

“Curly” purchased the first of six greenhouses from a Youngstown firm and put up the frame and glass himself. The next year frame and plastic greenhouses became available, and for each of the next five years, the Chitesters added a new building. Eventually, they grew two dozen varieties of tomatoes and many other vegetables and flowers in their six greenhouses, including the “big sellers,” hanging baskets. Like true gardeners everywhere, Devere said, “We’d still be at it if we were younger!”

Today’s emphasis on “organically grown produce” might inspire a family to till a patch and plant, and there are now plenty of nurseries, greenhouses, and plant sales that can provide the seeds, seedlings, and plants. As for me, my seedlings are already up and growing.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.

Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.


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