Vestal Nursery once a thriving floral catalog business

Maybe, while walking along the river trail in North Little Rock, you have seen in the Baring Cross neighborhood a large smokestack with the word "Vestal" painted on it. This is all that remains of the Vestal Nursery, which operated for more than 100 years, cultivating and shipping flowers across the United States. By the mid-20th century, it had one of the largest greenhouse spaces in the United States.

Joseph Wysong Vestal, a Quaker horticulturist in Cambridge City, Ind., grew and sold plants as early as 1855, following prior Vestal family advancements in horticultural technology. By 1860, J.W. Vestal was cultivating greenhouse flowers. In 1861, Vestal began publishing an annual floral and vegetable catalog, first titled "Roses, New Plants, and Special Merit Plants," establishing Vestal as one of the first U.S. mail-order operations in existence. The catalog was published for 93 consecutive years.

Seeking a warmer climate and a more favorable shipping radius, J.W. Vestal moved in 1880 to the north bank of the Arkansas River, adjacent to the 1873 Baring Cross railway bridge, in what was then part of Little Rock. The location choice was influenced by the availability of low-cost riverine agricultural land from the Iron Mountain Railroad. By 1880, plants were being shipped to all states east of the Rocky Mountains, especially to Chicago and St. Louis. J.W. Vestal added his youngest son, Charles Howell Vestal, to the business name in 1890.

With the notation of "Re-Established at Little Rock, 1881," J.W. Vestal & Son continued publication of the annual catalog of "Select, New, Rare, and Beautiful Plants; Roses." The 1906 catalog listed more than 170 distinctive varieties of strawberries in a wide assortment of shapes, sizes, and colors, including purple and orange. In 1914, J.W. Vestal & Son mailed a total of 50,000, 80-page catalogs to worldwide customers. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 reached its peak on April 20, 1927, inundating the Vestal riverine lands. However, the greenhouses contained plant benches several feet above the peak flood level, and the rose nursery was on high ground, saving the majority of the crops from devastation.

Read the complete article at www.arkansasonline.com.


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