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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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City Under Glass

City Under Glass

GRHC - April 17th, 2011

In this episode of Glance at the Past, take a gander at Grand Rapids under glass: the beginnings of greenhouses and forced seed propagation. Eugene Davis was the father of forced lettuce. These seeds became the standard of lettuce throughout the nation's markets.    



Early in the 1900s about seventy greenhouses in and around Grand Rapids were engaged in forcing lettuce. These indoor farmers were pioneers in a unique specialty field. One estimate suggested that in 1907 the city shipped, to the southern and western markets more than five-hundred thousand pounds of head lettuce grown under glass. When the lettuce crop was finished greenhouses were planted with radishes, followed by cucumbers, a crop amounting to more than fifty thousand bushels.

Eugene Davis, whose greenhouse was on Kalamazoo Ave., was the father of the ‘forcing lettuce’ business. He had propagated the seed for this variety that became the standard throughout the nation’s markets.

Vegetables were not the only greenhouse product. Their bedding, potted plant, and cut flower production was almost equal to that of the lettuce market. Grand Rapids initiated the forced violet industry, largest in the world. Easter lilies and roses went out to the country’s wholesale flower markets. We were among the largest growers in the United States of American Beauty roses, chrysanthemums and carnations. Cut flowers were shipped by some forty greenhouse gardeners to all the major cities.

One of the great flower producing greenhouses was that of Henry Smith on Bridge St. Smith had twenty-four individual glass houses with a total floor space of 150,000 square feet. Not only the largest in the city and the state, it was one of the biggest in the country.

Back then, greenhouses were almost equal, in the city’s reputation, to furniture and carpet sweepers.

Full Details

TitleCity Under Glass
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, radio, Eugene Davis, lettuce under glass, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, Podcast
Pubdate StringApril 17th, 2011

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