The nursery industry in Lake County began in 1854 with the vision and hard work of Jesse Storrs. The railways were constructed the year before and he believed that access to transportation and the beneficial climate near Lake Erie made Painesville an excellent site to begin his new enterprise. An English Immigrant, JJ Harrison, arrived some years before and worked with his father clearing trees from the Mentor Marsh for use as railroad ties. By 1858 Harrison was beginning his own nursery on nearby Jackson Street (Painesville) and he decided, along with Jesse Storrs, that Lake County was not big enough for two nurseries. Within several decades, the resulting partnership, Storrs & Harrison Nursery, became the largest ‘departmental’ nursery in the world .
All three sons of Jesse Storrs fought in the Civil War but only two would survive to join the business. Early crops included fruit trees and berries and an increasing number of ornamental shrubs, trees and perennials. A cold winter in 1872 with temperatures below -30 almost put them out of business, as did a financial ‘panic’ the following year. But by the 1880s they were thriving as the largest ‘departmental’ nursery in the world. Their main farm extended from Bacon and Bowhall Roads westward to Fairport Nursery Road. Barns and other facilities, including the largest barn in Ohio at the time, rose to the South of North Ridge Road, while fields and growing frames extended northward to the Lake Erie Shore. A railway stop at the nursery helped workers commute from Cleveland. Hale Road School originated as the Nursery School for children of nursery workers. The nursery clock chimed the hours for local communities and the thermometer provided official highs and lows. The Painesville Post Office expanded to handle mail-order shipments to a growing country.
One of the Storrs sons perished moving a planting machine near the turn of the century. Other nurseries rose and prospered, often fostered by the Storrs & Harrison operation. By 1940 the operation was slowing down…the war years were difficult for the nursery industry…and all properties north of Route 20 were sold. Soon thereafter the remaining operations were sold.
The range of glass greenhouses near the special railroad siding were rented out for many years, helping numerous local nurserymen get their start. George Yager and his dog were the last tenants after much of the range was destroyed by fire. All that remains now is a giant chimney behind the present-day hardware store.
The Storrs residence located across Rt 20 from Fairport Nursery Road was eventually removed. Harriet Storrs moved from there to a nursing home in the late-1960s. Upon her death she provided a large donation which eventually was used to found the Lake/Geauga Fund of The Cleveland Foundation.
NOTE: This brief article is a placeholder until we complete a more detailed history of Storrs & Harrison.
Portions originally published in the Lake County Visitors Bureau newsletter March, 2014