History of the Flowering Dogwood of Franklin County

The familiar flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) has been called the aristocrat of native flowering trees. Noted for its beauty and year-round ornamental value, it is also an important food source for birds and wildlife. Tennessee produces more flowering dogwoods than any other state, and Franklin County is near the top of the list of counties that grow them commercially. More new dogwood varieties, called cultivars, have been developed and named by nurserymen in Franklin County than anywhere in the world.

The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service published the following facts and legends concerning the dogwood: The name dogwood apparently originated in Europe. The bark of one of the European species was boiled in water and used for washing dogs suffering from mange.

The name dogwood is less inspirational than the legend that the dogwood once grew as a tall, straight tree and was used for timber. But when the wood was used to make the cross of Calvary, Jesus was so moved that he promised the tree would never again grow large enough to be employed for such a purpose. It is also said that the bracts [blossoms] of the dogwood are set in the shape of a cross and bear nail marks of the Crucifixion, and the red leaves in autumn have been associated with Jesus blood on Calvary. The dogwood also served in the field of medicine at one time. Dogwood bark was one of many barks used as a fever medicine before quinine came into general use. Of more importance is the role the dogwood once played in the textile industry and in sports. The wood from dogwood was used to make shuttles for weaving machines because of its very heavy, fine-grained and very hard properties, and because with wear it becomes extremely smooth and resistant to abrasion. The same qualities made it useful for golf clubs, jewelers' benches and as wedges for splitting logs.

Franklin County has the good fortune of being located in two growing zones and having a variety of terrains and soils ideal for the nursery business. As a result, the dogwood industry has established deep roots in Franklin County. It was here that the famous first red dogwood cultivar, Cherokee Chief, was developed and named by Isaac Ike J. Hawkersmith, and Franklin County is also the place where commercial propagation of dogwoods from native seeds was successfully begun on a large scale by Hoskins A. Shadow, son of early nurseryman, Joseph A.

Ten men associated with Franklin County nurseries have served as President of the Southern Nurserymens Association Nathan W. Hale, Joseph C. Hale, Edward W. Chattin, Edward E. Chattin, Harvey M. Templeton, Sr., Harry Nicholson, Thomas Norman Nicholson, Sr., Hubert A. Nicholson, Hoskins A. Shadow, and Don O. Shadow. Each of them has played a major role in establishing Franklin County's dogwood industry.

As early as the 1860 Franklin County census, four men listed their occupations as nurseryman. They were Seth W. Houghton, William W. Brittain, Charles N. Hickerson, and George H. Cherry. Hickerson, a Warren County, Tennessee native, was in Franklin County by 1854 and was living next door to George H. Cherry in 1860. Hickerson had 4,000 fruit trees in his nursery in 1861 but experienced financial problems and moved on to Pike County, Illinois. By 1864, George H. Cherry's father and brother, Charles T. and Cutler Cherry, had moved to Franklin County from Rochester, New York and joined in the business. These early nurserymen dealt mainly in fruit and ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, and roses and, for the most part, had been in the nursery business before coming to Franklin County. Dogwood trees were not mentioned in their lists of ornamental trees because, during that era, fruit trees were in demand as a source of fruit for eating, preserving, making cider, and distilling peach brandy.

Seth W. Houghton, a New York native, was living in Franklin County by 1852. In addition to being a dentist and merchant, he operated one of the first two documented nursery businesses in the county near Winchester. An 1857 newspaper advertisement stated he had 25,000 trees growing in his nursery. The name was changed from Sewanee Nurseries to S.W. Houghton and Company Nursery when he was joined by George H. Cherry in 1859. In 1878 George resigned and entered into a co-partnership with his brother Cutler Cherry and John W. and Joseph Joe A. Shadow, who had come to Franklin County in 1872 with their father Michael from Warsaw, Indiana and established Cedar Hill Nursery. In 1880 Cutler Cherry died and George moved to Chattanooga. Cutlers widow, Cornelia Battle Short Cherry, continued the co-partnership with the Shadows until it was dissolved in 1883.

The other early nursery in the county was operated by William W. Brittain, who began farming and fruit-growing shortly after he came to Franklin County from Rutherford County, Tennessee in 1856. By the 1880s he owned 140 acres, with an orchard of about 20 acres near Estill Springs, and an additional 80-acre orange grove in Florida. He employed John Nicholson, a native of England, and introduced Nicholson's sons Harry and Thomas Norman to the nursery business. In 1900 the Nicholson brothers started Commercial Nursery Company near Decherd growing fruit trees and selling them door-to-door out of horse-drawn buggies in the Mississippi and Louisiana Delta area. Norman's son, Thomas Norman, Jr., joined the business in the 1920s and later developed a landscape nursery which was relocated from Decherd to Chattanooga. Another of Norman's sons, Hubert Allie, joined Commercial Nursery in 1953, became sole owner in 1987, and operated it until his death in 1994. In the 1960s he employed Manuel L. Statham, Sr., who became well-known in the nursery business and helped develop the dogwood cultivar, Cherokee Brave. Iain Hiscock joined the business in 1977 and is the current president and owner of this century-old nursery that sells dogwoods and other flowering trees to a large market in foreign countries as well as the United States.

The original Cedar Hill Nursery, established in 1872 by Michael J. Shadow, was reorganized in 1892 when Michael's son John, along with Joseph C. and Nathan W. Hale, incorporated it and changed the name to Southern Nursery Company. They were joined by John's brother Joe Shadow, who was made foreman, the Shadows brother-in-law Edward W. Chattin, and Henry N. Camp of Knoxville. The nursery's once charming brick office stood on the North side of US Highway 64 West across from Magnolia Estates in Winchester. In 1896 this 800-acre nursery with sales of nearly $55,000 was a major industry in Franklin County. The Winchester depot was a vital link for transporting the nursery stock sold by 100 agents hired by the company as traveling salesmen in several states. Soon the nursery's sales went world-wide.

In 1896 Joseph C. Hale resigned from Southern Nursery and incorporated Tennessee Wholesale Nurseries, later changed to J.C. Hale Nursery after the former reorganized in 1909. Hales foreman was Richard A. Dick Duncan, an African-American man who had worked at several early nurseries and would later establish his own nursery named Fairview Nursery Company. In 1905 J.C. Hale claimed to have the largest peach nursery in the world with four million trees and annual sales of two million trees. Also between 1899 and 1906, Southern Orchard and Fruit Company was incorporated by John M. Donaldson, Frank A. Pattie, and others; Franklin County Nursery Company was established by Isaac W. Crabtree and Walter L. Arnold; and Thomas W. Brazelton and Jesse C. and John E. Carmack incorporated Pebble Hill Fruit Farm and Nurseries with William Brittain manager. Many farmers leased or rented land to the nurseries or contracted to grow nursery stock on their land. During the early 1900s, it was said that more trees, shrubs, and roses had gone out from Winchester to make the South beautiful and fruitful than any other town below the Ohio River.

Jennie Cowan, who was employed by Southern Nursery and later married William Carlton Rowell, pulled a pink dogwood out of a shipment of fruit tree stock received from France in 1910 and planted it in her front yard on South High Street in Winchester. Pink dogwood cultivars had just surfaced in America around 1900. Jennies pink dogwood is believed to be the first in Franklin County. Still beautiful each spring, it can be seen to the left of the front porch of the house now owned by David and Cile Alexander.

Elizabeth Bessie Bright Drake, daughter of Franklin County physician and inventor Edwin L. Drake, became the first woman to establish her own nursery business in Franklin County when she started Cumberland Nurseries in 1906 and employed Ike Hawkersmith as foreman. In 1926 she changed the name to E. B. Drake Nurseries, Incorporated with her brother Frank as assistant manager. Her 500-acre nursery dealt entirely in a catalogue mail-order business throughout the United States. She likewise played a major role in establishing Franklin County's dogwood industry and operated the nursery until her death in 1950. Her former employees still have fond memories of the Christmas party she had for them each year at her ante-bellum home on the old Cowan Road, the decorated tree that touched the twelve-foot ceiling, and the nice presents she gave them.

In 1911 John Shadow incorporated Cedar Hill Nursery and Orchard Company on the Lynchburg Road. That year the nursery had sales of nearly three million trees. In 1920, John's brother Joe and Joes sons incorporated Joe Shadow Nursery on the 320-acre farm that was originally purchased by Michael J. Shadow in 1875 near the present Dry Creek Beach and Park. Earl M. Shahan, Sr., the Shadows chief office clerk, would later establish Shahan Brothers Nursery.

It was here that Hoskins received his early training working alongside his father, older brothers, and uncles, including Pete A. Coutta. After working at Cedar Hill Nursery and Orchard Company, Pete became foreman of Southern Nursery and continued working there until his death in 1945.

Harvey M. Templeton, Sr., a lawyer and businessman turned nurseryman, bought a twenty percent interest in Southern Nursery that proved quite profitable. Previously he had been associated with Winchester Nursery Company, which was incorporated in 1918. His son Harvey, Jr., who purchased an even larger interest in Southern Nursery, revolutionized woody plant propagation by developing intermittent mist propagation. In 1950 Harvey, Jr. sold his interest in Southern Nursery and started Phytotektor, the Greek term for plant propagator. He served as National President of the Association of Propagators before selling the nursery in 1968 to Carl Bauer who sold the Winchester property to Milton Shaefer. Carl incorporated Phytotektor and moved it near Huntland, where his sons and daughter, Paul and Fred Bauer and Ann Bauer Sisk, continue to operate it as a wholesale business specializing in the production of tree liners, a term referring to plants that have been lined out in rows in a field. Flowering dogwood liners account for sixty-five percent of Phytotektors sales.

In 1914 Ike Hawkersmith, his brother William Will, and Richmond L. Groves, Sr. jointly owned land on the Lynchburg Road near Cedar Hill Nursery and Orchard Company, where R. L. had been employed as foreman. A 1924 business directory listed nine nurseries in Franklin County: J.C. Hale, Southern, Joe Shadow, Cumberland, Pattie, Shahan Brothers, Rosebank, Cedar Hill, and Commercial. In 1926 Southern Nursery was reorganized and the name changed to Southern Nursery and Landscape Company. After R. L. Groves death in 1936, Ike Hawkersmith helped R. L. Red Groves, Jr. establish Groves Nursery, which Red operated for many years.

By 1929, Ike had resigned as Bessie Drakes foreman at Cumberland Nurseries and established Ike Hawkersmith Nursery, which he operated until his death in 1963 at age seventy-five. His brother Edward G. Hawkersmith and A. C. Petty, Jr. started Hawkersmith and Petty Nursery. Later, Edward's son and daughter-in-law, Gerald E. Butch and Charleen Vaughan Hawkersmith, started Crimson Dale Nursery, which still specializes in dogwoods and Foster hollies and is presently operated by their son and daughter, Gerald V. Hawkersmith and Karen Hawkersmith Kennedy. In 1945, Ikes brother Will and Wills sons Louis and Leon established Riverside Nursery in Estill Springs, where they likewise specialized in dogwoods. Louis later moved to Coffee County and established a nursery which he is still operating. It was during the 1920s that the nursery industry's emphasis began to shift from fruit trees and plants to the production of ornamentals.

In the 1930's Hoskins Shadow learned additional techniques for growing ornamental nursery stock at nurseries in Alabama, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee. By 1940 he returned to Winchester and established Tennessee Valley Nursery. Ike Hawkersmith and Hoskins began growing dogwood trees from native seeds thus becoming the first nurserymen in Franklin County and among the first in the South to do this successfully. The native dogwood berries, abundant in Franklin and surrounding counties, were purchased by the pound from people who gathered them in the early fall. The seeds were pressed out of the ripe berries and prepared for germination. Hoskins nursery grew large quantities of dogwood trees from native seeds and specialized in flowering dogwood liners of very high quality.

Fred Alonso, a propagator at Tennessee Valley for seventeen years and well-known in the nursery business, presently owns and operates A & A Nursery, which he and his son Ronnie established in 1979. It has been said that Hoskins Shadow did more to upgrade the production of nursery stock in general, dogwood in particular, than any other individual in the state of Tennessee, and consequently he was dubbed The Dean of Dogwood Growers by Hubert Nicholson.

When Southern Nursery and Landscape Company's president, Edward W. Chattin, died in 1946, his son Edward E. took over the operation. This old, well-known business continued for another thirty-four years before finally closing its doors in 1980 after Edward E. Chattin's death. Southern and the other early Franklin County nurseries provided the training ground for most of the nurserymen in business here today.

From the 1950's to the present, several Franklin County nurserymen have developed new varieties of white, pink, and red dogwoods with specialized characteristics and resistance to disease and mildew. In addition to Cherokee Chief, Ike Hawkersmith developed, patented, and trademarked Cherokee Princess, originally called Sno-White. Hubert Nicholson of Commercial Nursery, developed, patented, and trademarked Cherokee Brave, Cherokee Daybreak, and Cherokee Sunset. Pygmy was developed and named by Will, Louis, and Leon Hawkersmith at Riverside Nursery. Golden Nugget was developed and named by William T. Sisk, Sr. at Green Hill Nursery, and Mystery was developed and patented by James H. Carson at Chocola Nursery. Don Shadow at Shadow Nursery has developed and named Little Princess and Dixie Colonnade. He named Sterling Silver as well, but it was developed by Bernard Sisk at Sisk Nurseries. Don also named Autumn Gold, a cultivar developed by Manuel Statham, Sr. at Commercial Nursery.

In 1959 Ike, Butch, Louis, and Leon Hawkersmith, Hoskins Shadow, and Hubert Nicholson formed Cherokee Growers, Incorporated and as a group patented and trademarked Ike's red dogwood, Cherokee Chief. There is an interesting story about Cherokee Chief, which was a freak of nature that had appeared in a bed of Ike's propagated pink dogwoods. As word got out about his red dogwood, he began noticing buds missing from the tree. It was discovered that individuals had slipped into his field under the cover of night and taken a sample bud or two to propagate for themselves. Nevertheless, Ike was credited for Cherokee Chief, and Howard Coulson made professional photographs to document the tree in full bloom and a close-up of a blossom, called bract.

When seeds from a pink or red dogwood tree are planted, the resulting trees usually have only white blossoms. To produce a pink or red flowering dogwood, a small tender bud is taken from a dogwood tree that has pink or red blossoms and budded to a tender seedling with a fairly well established root system. When the plant is dormant in November, the seedling with the live bud in it is root pruned. The following spring the top of the seedling and all suckers are removed to give the bud an opportunity to grow. Nearly three years are required to grow a pink or red budded seedling before it can be harvested for sale or replanted to grow into a larger tree.

In 1977 Hoskins Shadows son Don started Shadow Nursery, Incorporated and began specializing in rare and unusual plants and woody ornamentals. The backbone of his plant sales continues to be disease-resistant dogwoods. Hoskins son Fred became general manager and president of Tennessee Valley Nursery in 1983. Hoskins remained chairman of the board and came to the office daily until his death in 1998 at age ninety-five. He devoted a lifetime to producing quality dogwoods, served as president of the American, Southern, and Tennessee Associations of Nurserymen, and was inducted into the Nurserymens Hall of Fame in 1990. Under Fred-s leadership, Tennessee Valley Nursery continues to specialize in dogwoods.

In 1990 five Franklin County nurserymen corresponded with Rutgers University in New Jersey to obtain growing rights on Rutgers new hybrid, disease-resistant, fast-growing, Stellar series dogwoods. The nurserymen were Hubert Nicholson at Commercial Nursery, Hoskins and Fred Shadow at Tennessee Valley Nursery, Don Shadow at Shadow Nursery, and Carl Bauer at Phytotektor. Rutgers University allowed only seven nurseries in the United States to have a contract to propagate their dogwoods. It was an honor and tribute to Franklin County that four of the seven nurseries were located here. These hybrid dogwoods continue to be shipped within the United States and to Canada, Europe, and the Far East. Approximately seventy-five percent of the trees originate in Franklin County.

Dogwoods sold wholesale by Franklin County nurserymen are available bare root, in liners, balled and burlaped, and in containers. The busiest time of the year begins about the first of March and ends the first of May when the nursery stock is shipped to several countries and all over the United States, with the majority going to the East Coast. In the fall, local people can still be seen gathering berries to sell to nurserymen for seeds for new propagation.

For more than sixty-five years, the flowering dogwood industry in Franklin County has endured and flourished thus establishing it as one of the historic industries of the county. With Franklin County's history coming under review during its 200th birthday celebration in 2007, it is quite fitting the dogwood industry continues to be recognized with a festival of its own.