Tag Archives: Gardening

How Big Are Your Onions?

At the turn of the century, most people still grew their own vegetables because it was a cost efficient way to feed themselves.  They could earn some extra cash by setting up markets on the outskirts of cities and sell their produce to the city folk.  Gardeners planted to get the most vegetables per square foot while creating an aesthetically pleasing view.  Wooden, rectangular beds were separated by brick or gravel paths.  The most popular vegetables were cabbage, onions, potatoes, turnips, carrots, peas, cucumber, and melon.

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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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