The Horticulture Entreprenuer
November 9, 1832
Today is the birthday of the West Chester Pennsylvania nurseryman, entrepreneur, and Quaker, Josiah Hoopes.
Josiah loved nature from an early age. As a young man, Josiah had a desire to propagate and sell plants. After his 30th birthday, Josiah built a greenhouse on his father’s property. Within a few years, Josiah’s growing customer base prompted him to start his nursery, named Cherry Hill Nurseries. Over time, Cherry Hill grew to be known as Hoopes, Bro., and Thomas (HB&T) after Josiah recruited his brother Abner and his neighbor, an accountant named George B. Thomas.
With its gravelly loam soil, West Chester has cultivated some important botanical figures through the years. The West Chester botanists David Townsend and Dr. William Darlington were lifelong friends with Josiah. Together, the three men founded Marshall Square Park, named after the colonial botanist Humphry Marshall. The three men also worked on cataloging the trees and plants in their home county.
Now, for their efforts, the town appointed all three men to form the first park committee. Later, Josiah (who was younger than the other men) was tasked with improving the park. Josiah added flower beds and walking paths - as well as an extraordinary amount of “resting stations.” A history of the park shared that at one point, the park had 70 benches - 50 more than today’s total count. And today, in Josiah’s hometown, the 16-acre Hoopes Park is named for Josiah. He served as that park's original park supervisor.
In addition to his local efforts, Josiah became nationally known when he developed a way to ship his nursery stock by railroad. Using moss and paper to wrap his plants, Josiah began to hire salesmen to market his plants and trees across the country. After securing a contract with the federal government, Josiah’s nursery shipped trees and shrubs to all the national cemeteries. Within a decade, H B&T became the largest commercial grower in America. Before the turn of the century, HB&T was shipping plants to Europe, Australia, and the West Indian Islands. They even had a sales rep stationed in Mexico. By 1913, the nursery occupied over a thousand acres, and it even offered a pleasure garden with a boardwalk for the locals - complete with manicured shrubs in the shape of spears and a Maltese cross. One newspaper reported,
"There is no more attractive place in our borough than the grounds of this firm, including their private residences adjoining, and we as a people owe them a vote of thanks for the privilege extended us in visiting them."
Josiah had a special love for trees. At Hoopes, Josiah’s fruit trees were a top seller, appealing to new homeowners in America’s growing suburbs. An 1870’s record book shows old order sheets with the words “send at once” and “immediately” handwritten on the receipt. After mastering packaging and shipping, the nursery could boast of sales to nearly every state in the union, and customers even included President Grover Cleveland at the White House. And, by the late 1800s, the nursery was the number one grower of peach trees.
Like his friend Townsend, Josiah’s botanical writing was geared toward encouraging a love for growing plants and trees. Josiah regularly wrote botanical articles for the New York Tribune, and he also wrote a book called Book of Evergreens.
In terms of posterity, Asa Gray named the plant Hymenoxys hoopesii (ii = "ee-eye") commonly known as Owl's Claws for Josiah Hoopes. This plant is a marvelous native mountain wildflower offering large golden-yellow flowers all summer long. The bloom is made up of long, drooping petals (resembling owl’s claws) and a button-like center cone.
Josiah Hoopes died on January 16, 1904. HB&T closed for good in the 1940s.