Call’s Nursery

Jen Gerger

by George Haskell

The S.W. Call Nursery was founded by Solon W. Call in 1877. When his father, Amherst Call was 11 years old the entire family moved from Vermont to Ohio. The year was 1815, and at that time Ohio was part of the new frontier, and much of it heavily forested. Amherst worked with his parents, Rufus and Lydia, and his seven siblings clearing the land and establishing a farm. In 1825 Amherst decided it was time to start his own farm. He purchased Lot 64 in Perry Township consisting of 160 acres of heavily timbered land on what is now known as the “Call Farm” at a price of $638. He slowly cleared the land and in 1838 he built the house, which still stands on the northwest corner of Call Road and Manchester. His parents decided to make their home with him and soon joined him in the new house.

Solon W. Call was born November 13, 1845. He was the youngest of six children. When his father died in 1869, Solon’s mother, Olive, sold the western half of the Farm. Upon her death in __ Solon’s brother Addison, took title to the remaining acres. However, it was Solon who remained in the house and farmed the property. In 1877 be began the S.W. Call Nursery with just 1 ½ acres of fruit trees, but his Nursery quickly expanded.

In 1881 Solon purchased the 80 acres from his brother and became the sole owner of the Farm. In 1890 he purchased an additional 28 acres immediately to the South extending to Harper Street. In 1895 he purchased another 35 acres to the East of the 28 acre parcel; this new parcel adjoined the tracks of the New York Central Railroad and provided easy access for shipping. By 1920 the Nursery Catalog boasted that the Nursery contained approximately 200 acres. Whether Solon was counting part of the 80 acres that his mother had previously sold, or whether he leased additional acreage, there is no record of him owning any significant additional acreage, beyond the 143 described above.

While the Nursery expanded in size the product line expanded as well, to include ornamental trees, hardy shrubs, roses, and vines, as well as tools, spraying equipment, and agricultural chemicals and mulch. By 1909 the catalog totaled 24 pages, and the Nursery shipped to customers all over Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Solon’s philosophy was to deal with customers honestly and straight-forwardly. In the front of the 1909 Catalog, he stated his philosophy as follows:

“In again sending out my Annual Price List, I wish to remind my customers that prices herein given are for First-class Stock, the very best that can be grown. If you are looking for cheap stock regardless of quality, do not send your orders here, but if you wish to get the best quality of trees in good condition, and at reasonable prices, I shall be pleased to receive your orders, and I guarantee satisfaction. I make a specialty of giving my customers the best that can be grown, and have built up a large and constantly increasing trade by so doing, believing, as I do, that in buying fruit trees, “the best are the cheapest.” My advice to all fruit growers is, never buy a poor tree because someone offers to pay the freight.

To those unacquainted with my nurseries, I wish to say, I make a specialty of dealing with the farmers and planters. I employ no agents, and send out no traveling salesmen, except this Price List. My trees are all grown here on my premises, under my personal supervision, and no healthier, hardier, thriftier or better stock can be grown. (See certificate of inspection on page 23). Anyone sending us their order can depend on having it filled with the finest selected stock, packed in the best possible manner, and given as much care as could be given it were they here to attend to it themselves.”

In order to facilitate access to his Nursery, Call designed and built a new road, and cut Call Road through his property and into Perry Village. Prior to opening the new road, Center Road had been the only nearby route for travel between North and South Ridge Roads. In addition to shipping by truck, many of his products were shipped by rail with the New York Central, the Nickel Plate, and the CP&E Railroads.

Solon died on February 22, 1915 and his wife, Eunice, took title to the land as she and her family continued to operate and expand the Nursery. In 1921 she transferred the property to her daughter, Ethel, and soon Ethel’s husband Paul Schumaker was joint owner of the property. Paul was referred to as the owner from then on, and operated the Nursery until it closed.

As they continued to expand and improve the Nursery, they expanded and improved the catalog as well. However Solon’s portrait continued to appear at the front of each catalog.

The Catalogs for 1924 and 1925 featured a drawing of the Call Homestead on the front cover. The following year they began using the A.B. Morse Co. of St. Joseph, Michigan, as their printer, a company which specialized in horticultural publications, and which produced the famous Wayside Gardens Catalog. The 1926 Catalog was the first to use color. By the next year all the Catalog pictures were in color, and the major focus was shifting from fruit trees to ornamentals, although their fruit trees were highly prized and probably accounted for the majority of their sales. The Nursery originated the Arctic Peach and the Brassington Cherry, which were popular for a number of years.

With the help of A.B. Morse the Nursery expanded its marketing efforts through the catalogs. The 1928 issue featured “a complete foundation planting”, a “special porch planting”, and a “backyard fruit collection”. The Catalogs from 1929 through 1934 boasted of “outdoor beauty for your home”. However, as the Depression set in, the Schumaker’s found it necessary to reduce costs, and in 1936 they moved their printing business to the Benton Review Shop of Fowler, Indiana.

As with so many other nurseries in Lake County, and throughout the world, the depressed economy took a serious toll. Sales dropped dramatically. In addition, with the United States entering the War in 1941, and industry mobilized to support the war effort, it became more and more difficult to find nursery workers. Women and children, as well as laborers from Mexico and the Caribbean, became the principal sources for labor. However, the nursery was never able to recover. By 1952 the catalog was down to 16 pages, and in 1954 a mere six page flyer. The Nursery closed that year and the Schumakers began selling off the land. The home and a large part of the remaining acreage were sold in 1963 to Junior and Betty Sines of Perry Township. A large part of the thirty-five acre parcel was sold to Horton Nurseries in 1965 as it was in the process of relocating from Mentor to Perry. Paul Schumaker retired to Florida, and died in 1972.