Friday, April 20, 2018

Turn east off the Newbern Road at Hillside Nursery

Spring was looking a little downtrodden when I went out into the museum garden just before heading home yesterday afternoon.

Many of the daffodils, snowed upon twice, were flat on the ground looking depressed; and only one stunted Red Emperor tulip was in bloom. Elsewhere, the Star Magnolia, which ordinarily has bloomed by now, was just coming into bud.

I got to wondering where Chariton residents had obtained their bulbs and nursery stock back in the early days and discovered that James Alexander's Hillside Nursery seems to have been a principal source.

The nursery was located just north of town on a farm at the intersection of what now are Highway 14 and 497th Street. Then, Highway 14 was called the "Newbern Road" and 497th street --- prior to disruption by construction of the Rock Island rail line in 1912-1913 --- offered a straight shot east to Beulah and Bethel churches and beyond.

Back in early April, 1873, Hillside was offering in the columns of The Chariton Democrat, "cherry, plum, pear, peach and evergreen trees" as well as "grapes, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries in abundance." Also in stock were "tube roses, gladiolus, peonies, dahlias and tulip bulbs."

S.L. Morrison also was offering gardening stock for sale that spring and down at the new town of Derby, John Throckmorton had gone into the nursery business, too. But Hillside Nursery seems to have been the big one. James had in stock, too, "500,000 No. 1 hedge plants."

James, born during 1846 in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, had arrived in Lucas County at age 10 during 1856 when his parents, John and Margaret (Hunter) Alexander, settled northeast of Chariton in the neighborhood where Oxford church and school as well as the Oxford Cemetery were established. He served in Company K, 46th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, during the Civil War and then, during 1868, married Alsia J. Culbertson and they became the parents of eight children. They moved to what became the Hillside Nursery farm during 1872.

During the fall of 1884, the Alexanders sold out in Lucas County and headed west to Antelope County in northeast Nebraska to establish a new nursery business. They landed eventually in Chico, California, where he died during 1915.

Hillside Nursery, although no longer in business, remained in the collective memory of Lucas Countyans until well into the 20th century, however, and the "Hillside Nursery farm," something of a landmark. Folks who lived out that way as late as 1910 or so most likely would have told prospective guests that the best way to reach them would have been to turn right off the Newbern Road at Hillside Nursery. Those directions would confuse most now, more than a century later.

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