We are continuing our look back at the Buckbee family, original builders of the 51,000-square-foot office and warehouse building that will house the Project Uplift headquarters.
In our previous post we talked about the family itself and briefly mentioned the Buckbee seed business. In this post we’ll look a little more at the company and its impact on Rockford.
Hiram W. Buckbee, born in 1860, began selling cabbage plants as a boy in 1871. From there he expanded his business into a huge operation that included a 350,000-square-foot warehouse, greenhouse complex, and trial area, along with a 15,000-acre seed farm. An 1892 biography of Jesse Buckbee (Hiram’s grandfather) noted that this “immense seed business conducted…under the name of H. W. BUCKBEE, with its collateral branches, Rockford Seed Farms and Forest City greenhouses, is one of the most important merchandising institutions, not only of Rockford, but of IL, and for that matter, of the U.S.” In 1921, the year of Hiram’s death, his company mailed out 750,000 catalogues.
In addition to Buckbee, Rockford was home to three other prominent mail order seed and plant wholesalers: Roland H. Shumway, Alneer Brothers, and Condon Brothers. The four businesses would later merge under the name of Condon-Shumway, a company that stayed in business until the 1970s. Clients of the company included Bing Crosby and Perry Como.
And the Buckbee name lives on. Those of you familiar with heirloom gardening might be interested to know that Buckbee tomato seeds are available as heirloom seeds, from a pre-1930 variety, advertised in the Buckbee catalogue as “[t]he largest fruited, the smoothest, the finest in quality of all early scarlet tomatoes.”
Johnson, Eric A. Rockford 1900-World War I. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2003. Accessed via http://www.books.google.com/books?id=OjJ7B64se1sC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q=buckbee&f=false, p. 50.