Tag Archives: Agriculture

How Does Your Garden Grow?

If you own a garden, you are most likely already enjoying the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor, and you continually tend to it by watering, weeding, and fending off unwanted critters.  Rockford has been home to many seed companies that supplied gardeners with fruit, vegetable, and flower seeds.  The R.H. Shumway Seed Company, for example, is still in business, although it is now located in Randolph, WI.  The name Shumway may sound familiar if you often cross the State Street Bridge.  The Shumway Market is located across from the Faust Hotel and next to the old Midway Theater.  It is a public lot that has seen decades of farmers selling their produce.

Roland Hallet Shumway was born on July 26, 1842 in Kishwaukee, southwest of what is now the Greater Rockford Airport.  He, like many local young men, served in the Civil War by enlisting in the Illinois Infantry in 1862.  He married Emma Davis in January 1864 and was discharged from service July 1865.  He and Emma had four sons and two daughters.

In 1870, Roland founded the R.H. Shumway Seed Company in south Rockford.  Residents received a catalogue in the mail from which they could order all different kinds of seeds.  In 1872, the company was moved to East State and Third Streets.  When the company expanded in 1881, it was moved to South First Street.  The Shumway Seed Company was very successful.  In 1905, Roland was so wealthy that he paid more taxes on personal property than anyone in Rockford.  In 1926, the company was reportedly the world’s largest seed company with 200,000 catalogues mailed every spring.

Catalogues would be printed using large print blocks showcasing the different types of fruits, vegetables, or flowers that could be grown by purchasing their seeds.  Here are a few examples of the print blocks.  The images have been reversed for easy viewing.

Shumway’s Giant Musk-Melon


New Brazilian Flour Corn


Danvers Half Long, French Forcing, Ox Heart, Scarlet Horn,

Chantenay, Improved Long Orange



New Crop Choice Onion Seed

White Portugal, Large Red Wethersfield, Early Red Globe, Round Yellow

 Danver, Large Red Globe, Yellow Globe Danvers, White Globe Picking Onion

The company also mailed a pamphlet called Shumway’s Handy Culture Book and Canning Recipes.  The pamphlet contained gardening tips on lawn care, sprays, and different types of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, along with how-tos such as how to prune, pickle, freeze, and store for winter.  Many editions were printed over the years.

Roland died on December 30, 1925 after complications from being struck by a car three days prior.  His son Myron took over the business until his death in 1933.  The company was sold to J.W. Jung Seed Company, which kept Shumway’s name and image.  In 1970, Condon Bros., another early prominent seed company in Rockford, consolidated with Shumway Seed Company.  The company is still in business, sending out catalogues and mailing seeds to customers; however, it no longer has the same connection with Rockford.  Check out their website: http://www.rhshumway.com/

Shumway Market entrance, East State Street, 1911

Shumway Market was established in 1905.  It was a place for farmers to gather and sell their fruits, vegetables, and flowers to local residents.  In an interview with the Register Republic newspaper in 1928, Market Master J.A. Carslon explained that the sellers came from all over the area, even Wisconsin.  The cost to sell your produce was only 25 cents per day.  An average day would bring 200 sellers and 2,000 customers.  The single rule was that the vendor must sell only what he grows.  In the 1940s, the market took place on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and twice on Saturdays.

Bustling Shumway Market, East State Street, 1911

Hess Brothers Department Store and State Street Baptist Church are across the street.

To learn more about Victorian and heirloom gardening, visit us at our upcoming event!!!

Heritage Garden Days: Sat. and Sun. July 30 and 31, 11 am – 4pm

Enjoy our unique heritage gardens and prairies, presentations, demonstrations, crafts, heirloom plant sales, and more!

Cost: $8 Adults, $5 Children (3-17)

Members are always free!

For more details, see our event page here: http://www.midwayvillage.com/event_calendar.cfm?id=1028

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With Baby in Tow

(Tobacco farm, 1890s)

Imagine that you are a farmer living in Rockford one hundred years ago.  You, your spouse, and your several children are starting another day on the farm.  Everyone does their part to help with the harvest, which means there is no one left in the house to watch over your 3 month old infant.  What do you do?

You take little Johnny with you in the field cradle, of course!

This hickory bentwood cradle was used by farmers to carry their infants with them into the fields while they worked.  It could be pulled along behind them by its curved handle.  The wood slats curve down and create a flat bottom.  The cradle is suspended with two rings that hook on each end.  It sways back and forth to keep baby calm and happy while mom and dad work in the field.

The cradle has original red paint with gold stenciling.  It was manufactured by Ford Johnson & Company in Michigan City, Indiana, and was patented by Abner Woodward on October 17, 1876.  The patent can be viewed here: http://www.google.com/patents?id=Y1xeAAAAEBAJ&printsec =abstract&zoom=4&source=gbs_overview_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Cradles similar to this may have been used by slave women as they worked on the plantation.  Many online sellers of these cradles claim that their 1870s cradle was used by slaves; however, this is not true due to the 8th Amendment declaring slavery to be unconstitutional in 1865.  Rockford was lucky in that it squelched slavery within the first few years of its inhabitance.  In 1834, Germanicus Kent brought with him his slave Lewis, a boy of seventeen, who he purchased in Alabama for $400.  Kent told Lewis that he could purchase his freedom for $800.  In 1839, Lewis earned his freedom and took on the surname of Lemon.  While Kent eventually left Rockford, Lewis stayed in Rockford growing and selling vegetables.  He died a free and respected man in 1877.  The field cradles were never used by slaves in Rockford.

This cradle was donated to the museum in 1975 by four grandchildren of George W. Marsh, the same family that built and lived in one of the houses that is located in our historic village.  George W.’s grandparents Russell and Abigail Marsh were pioneers of Rockford who arrived in the winter of 1838.  Their son George purchased land near them at North Alpine Road.  When he passed in 1888, his nephew George W. purchased the land.  It is believed that the house was built in the 1860s by one of the two men.  The house is on display in the village, although at this time it is not open to the public.

In its early days, Rockford farms grew wheat which were milled into flour and packed in barrels to be sold at market.  By 1870, Rockford was growing into a city with a population of 11,049.  Within the decade, Rockford’s courthouse was built, the first library opened, and the knitting and furniture industries boomed.  Between 1870 and 1900, area farmland doubled as wheat production tapered off and farmers began growing corn and oats, as well as raising livestock.

(1890 farm)

Being outside and working hard was a part of daily life.  As a member of the family, everyone pitched in to keep the farm running and to put food on the table.  In cradles like this one, farm kids were in the fields before they could even walk.

Many thanks to Keith and Roxann Hardy for their assistance with the research on this item!


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