Joseph W. Thomas and Sons Nursery Records

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Collection Title: Joseph W. Thomas and Sons Nursery Records

Collection Number: 189

Dates of Collection: 1884-1990

Box Numbers: 1-5

Repositiory: Chester County Historical Society

Project Archivist: Jennifer Duli

Abstract:

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Abstract: 

The Joseph W. Thomas and Sons Nursery in Chester County was one of the oldest and longest running horticultural enterprises in the state of Pennsylvania. It operated from 1853 to 1990, and was owned by three successive generations of the Thomas family. The Thomas nursery actually began in 1828 as a small farm and orchard called “Maple Farm,” which was owned by Charles and Ruth Thomas. It was their son, Joseph Williams Thomas, who formally established the nursery on a small portion of the farm around 1853. He named his burgeoning business, Chester Valley Nursery. Later, he changed the company’s name to Joseph W. Thomas and Company. Around 1888, Joseph’s sons, Edwin and Charles Lincoln, joined him in business and the name of the firm was changed once more to Joseph W. Thomas and Sons, reflecting the new partnership. The Joseph W. Thomas and Sons Nursery records contains documents created by that business from 1884 to 1993. Researchers will find financial records; general business records, especially plant order books; and a small collection of horticultural publications. There is also a very small portion of general records that relate to the nursery or nursery profession but were not created by the business such as, articles relating to the history of the nursery, a completed nursery order form from 1896, nursery stationary and printed ephemera, records of hours worked, and two grange booklets. The bulk of the collection is made up of business records, and in particular client orders. 


Biography:

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Biography: 

The Joseph W. Thomas and Sons Nursery in Chester County was one of the oldest and longest running horticultural enterprises in the state of Pennsylvania. It operated from 1853 to 1990 and was owned by three successive generations of the Thomas family.

The Thomas nursery actually began in 1828 as a small farm and orchard called “Maple Farm,” which was owned by Charles and Ruth Thomas. It was their son, Joseph Williams Thomas, who formally established the nursery on a small portion of the farm around 1853. He named his burgeoning business, Chester Valley Nursery. Later, he changed the company’s name to Joseph W. Thomas and Company. Around 1888, Joseph’s sons, Edwin and Charles Lincoln, joined him in business and the name of the firm was changed once more to Joseph W. Thomas and Sons, reflecting the new partnership. In 1904, just after Joseph’s death, his son-in-law, Frederic J. Smith joined Edwin
and Charles Lincoln Thomas in partnership.

Though he married twice, Edwin had no children of his own. As such, management of the firm eventually passed to two of Charles Lincoln’s sons, Charles Edwin and Raymond. After Charles Edwin’s death in 1974, Raymond continued to manage the nursery until he decided to close its doors permanently in 1990. The land was sold to Bentley Developers of West Chester for the construction of a new residential development.

Throughout its history, the nursery was a more or less successful business. According to author Herb Fry, it “…was noted for a variety of black walnut [that was] discovered growing on the nursery land by Joseph sometime before 1884…The absence of hooks and grooves [made for] easy…extraction of the [walnut] meat,” (p. 88). However, other activities were incorporated to increase profits. For example, there was a working farm, orchard and dairy which operated well into the mid-twentieth century.

Bibliography:
Fry, Herb. “The Joseph W. Thomas and Sons Nursery.” Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society History Quarterly, vol
32: 85-97. http://www.tehistory.org/hqda/html/v32/v32n3p085.html (Accessed April 21, 2010)

Collection Scope:

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Collection Scope: 

The Joseph W. Thomas and Sons Nursery records contains documents created by that business from 1884 to 1993. Researchers will find financial records; general business records, especially plant order books; and a small collection of horticultural publications. There is also a very small portion of general records that relate to the nursery or nursery profession but were not created by the business, such as articles relating to the history of the nursery, a completed nursery order form from 1896, nursery stationary and printed ephemera, records of hours worked, and two grange booklets. The bulk of the collection is made up of business records, and in particular, client orders.

Collection Arrangement:

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Collection Arrangement: 

The collection is arranged into three series, "Financial records," "General business and other records," and "Horticultural and botanical publications."

The "Financial records" series is arranged alphabetically by record type and chronologically within those groups. Included records are cash books, account books, check receipt books, and a ledger. The cash books appear to list client payment information as well as commissions earned by various nursery salesmen. Account books in this
series list the nursery's receipts and expenses. The ledger contains client account information and has an index. Like the financial records "General business and other records" are arranged alphabetically by record group and chronologically within those groups. Included are newspaper clippings and a historical article by Herb Fry; an order
for nursery plants from 1896; nursery stationary and printed ephemera; order books; a Pennsylvania Grange booklet as well as an Oxford Grange dues booklet; and records of hours worked by employees. Order books represent the largest record group in the series, dating from 1893 to 1990. Most order books document customer orders for one or two seasons (usually spring and fall), providing a list of names and prices of the items purchased. Though individual orders within the order books are frequently undated, the books themselves are. Occasionally, client contact information is included. Thomas and Sons' clients were both private individuals and other nurseries. A small number of order books appear to document orders taken by specific salesmen and this is noted in the container list when known.

The series "Horticultural and botanical publications" is arranged alphabetically by publication title or subject. Included are American Association of Nurserymen convention books; a D. Hill Nursery commemorative volume of poetry; directories of regional nurserymen and North American arboretums and botanical gardens; a copy of Manual of Tree and Shrub Insects; plant, tree and seed related booklets and pamphlets; and plate books. Of note in this series are the plate books, which contain colorful illustrations of numerous types of fruit, flowers and trees. This collection will be of interest to horticulturalists, those interested in the nursery business and those interested in the history of Chester County.

Collection Contents:

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Collection Contents: 

Series I. Financial records.

 Volume

Account book, 1884-1904.

1 

Account book, 1928-1939, 1933-1990.

2 
 BoxVolume

Cash book, 1925-1930.

13 

Cash book, 1930-1939.

14 

Cash book, 1934-1942.

15 

Cash book, 1942-1951.

16 

Cash book, 1952-1962.

17 

Cash book, 1962-1972.

18 

Cash book, 1973-1990.

19 

Check receipt book, 1923 October-1927 June.

110 

Check receipt book, 1927 July-1932 January.

111 

Ledger (client account information), 1890-1894.

112 

Series II. General business and other records.

 BoxFolder

Newspaper clipping and article on history of the Nursery, circa mid 1990s.

51 

Nursery order, 1896 May 21.

52 

Nursery stationary and printed ephemera, undated.

53 

Order book, 1893-1896.

213 

Order book, 1909 Spring, 1909 Fall.

214 

Order book, 1910 Spring, 1910 Fall .

215 

Order book, 1910 Fall, 1911 Spring.

216 

Order book, 1911 Fall, 1912 Spring.

217 

Order book, 1912 Spring, 1912 Fall.

218 

Order book, 1913 Spring, 1913 Fall.

219 

Order book (salesmen: J. Harry Thomas, J. [C]. Davis, Douglas Moister, James Mullin, Hiram M. Jones), 1913 Fall-1924 Fall.

220 

Order book, 1913 Fall, 1914 Spring.

221 

Order book, 1914 Spring, 1914 Fall.

222 

Order book (salesman: James Mullins), 1914 Fall, 1915 Spring.

323 

Order book, 1915 Spring, 1915 Fall.

324 

Order book, 1915 Fall, 1916 Spring.

325 

Order book (salesman: Harry Trorer), 1916 Spring.

326 

Order book, 1916 Fall.

327 

Order book, 1917 Spring, 1917 Fall.

328 

Order book, 1918 Spring, 1918 Fall.

329 

Order book, 1918 Fall, 1919 Spring.

330 

Order book, 1919 Spring, 1919 Fall.

331 

Order book, 1919 Fall, 1920 Spring.

332 

Order book, 1920 Spring, 1920 Fall.

333 

Order book, 1920 Fall.

334 

Order book, 1921 Spring, 1921 Fall.

335 

Order book, 1921 Fall.

336 

Order book, 1923 Spring, 1923 Fall.

337 

Order book (salesmen: David F. White and John Kindig), 1923 Spring-1931 Spring.

338 

Order book, 1923 Fall, 1924 Spring.

339 

Order book, 1924 Spring, 1924 Fall, 1925 Spring.

340 

Order book, 1924 Fall and 1925 Spring.

341 

Order book (salesmen: J.[C.] Davis and James Mullin), 1925 Spring, 1926 Fall, 1930 Spring.

342 

Order book, 1926 Fall, 1927 Spring.

343 

Order book, 1927 Spring, 1927 Fall.

344 

Order book, 1928 Spring, 1928 Fall, 1929 Spring.

445 

Order book, 1929 Spring, 1929 Fall.

446 

Order book, 1930 Spring, 1930 Fall, 1931 Spring.

447 

Order book, 1931 Fall, 1932 Spring, 1932 Fall, 1933 Spring, 1933 Fall.

448 

Order book, 1933 Fall, 1934 Spring, 1934 Fall, 1935 Spring, 1935 Fall, 1936 Spring.

449 

Order book (appears to contain many entries of items sold to other nurseries/businesses), 1936-1971.

450 

Order book, 1936 Spring, 1936 Fall, 1937 Spring, 1937 Fall.

451 

Order book, 1938, 1939 Spring.

452 

Order book, 1939 Fall, 1940 Spring, 1940 Fall.

453 

Order book, 1941 Spring, 1942, and 1943.

454 

Order book, 1943 Fall.

455 

Order book, 1946 Fall, 1949 [Spring ].

456 

Order book, circa 1949-195[0].

457 

Order book, 1951.

458 

Order book, 1953.

459 

Order book, 1955.

460 

Order book, 195[7] Spring.

461 

Order book, 1959-1961.

462 

Order book, 1961-1964.

463 

Order book, 1964-1967.

464 

Order book, 1967-1970.

465 

Order book, 1970-1975.

466 

Order book (appears to contain many entries of items sold to other nurseries/businesses), 1975-1990.

467 

Pennsylvania Grange booklet and Oxford Grange dues booklet, 1892-1898.

54 

Record of hours worked, 191[5] April-1917 October.

268 

Record of hours worked, 1928 July-1930 August.

269 

Record of hours worked, 1930 September-1933 January.

270 

Record of hours worked, 1957 January-1958 October.

271 

Record of hours worked, 1972 January-1976 January.

272 

Series III. Horticultural and botanical publications.

 BoxFolder

American Association of Nurserymen convention books, 1921, 1925, 1927.

55 

D. Hill Nursery Company commemorative volume, "Tree Tributes" (poetry), circa 1930.

56 

Directories of regional nurserymen, and North American arboretums and botanical gardens, 1938, circa 1940's, 1990.

57 

Manual of Tree and Shrub Insects, 1926.

58 

Plant, tree and seed related booklets and pamphlets, 1933, 1936, undated.

59 

Plate books, undated.

510

Made Possible By: 
Made Possible By The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation administrated through the Council on Library and Information Resources "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project