Louisville Uncovered presents: History of Greenhouses in St. Matthews

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Louisville Uncovered presents: History of Greenhouses in St. Matthews, Nanz & Kraft history


Louisville Uncovered presents a historical look back on the acreage of St. Matthews Kentucky c. 1800. We now know it as a social setting full of popular restaurants , bars and shopping, but once upon a time, there was a “hotbed” of “hothouses” aka greenhouses covering this parcel of Louisville!

(Courtesy of Nanz & Kraft Florists)

Nanz and Neuner Inc., was founded in 1850 in Louisville, Kentucky, after Henry Nanz left his native Germany where he had been a horticulturist.

In the year 1850, he opened a florist and greenhouse in the city. Henry Nanz and Henry C. Neuner formed a partnership in 1872 and by 1880 had established thirty acres of flower gardens and sixty greenhouses in St. Matthews, a suburb of Louisville.

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A listing in The Nurseryman’s Directory of 1883 shows that the proprietors were still Henry Nanz, Sr., and Alfred Neuner. The directory reported that the firm owned 30 acres of land for growing plants. Thirty-one greenhouses occupied 2.5 acres of this land. They employed 16 men, and the land, stock, and houses were valued at $50,000. The advertisement in the same publication indicated they did both wholesale and retail business. And roses were their stated specialty.

Early in the year 1850, German horticulturist Henry Nanz immigrated to the United States and settled in Louisville, Kentucky. Nanz came from Stuttgart, in what was then the German state of Württemberg. It was primarily an agrarian state, but in the late 1840s, the country was overpopulated and suffering from political revolution, religious strife between Catholic and Protestant factions, and hunger riots. Political prisoners were often released from jail only on the understanding that they would emigrate to America. American businessmen were also actively recruiting in all the European countries for people willing to come and settle the sparsely populated frontiers of America. The usually well educated, hard-working Germans were popular candidates.

You may wonder why a German immigrant chose Louisville as his new home. In fact, all sections of the United States absorbed a huge population of German immigrants from the 1850s onward. The city of Cincinnati, Ohio was at one time so heavily populated by Germans that the city street signs were in that language and public officials were required to be fluent in German as well as English. Louisville is only about 100 miles downstream from Cincinnati, on the opposite bank of the Ohio River, and it too received a large influx of Germans.

In 1850 it was already a city of some refinement and culture. The University of Louisville was established in 1837. The city had a horticultural society, a racecourse, and a fairground. There were also two theaters, a Mechanics Institute and a Mozart Society. By the 1870s, Louisville had attracted enough German immigrants to support six different chapters of the Independent Order of Redmen, a German benevolent society. Thirteen churches advertised themselves as specifically serving the German population of Louisville, including four Roman Catholic, two Methodist Episcopal, one Baptist, and six Evangelical churches. There were three German banks, four German-language newspapers, and two German musical societies. The town was cosmopolitan enough to warrant the establishment of French, German, Italian, and Belgian consulates.

Though I could not find him in the 1850 U. S. census records, all the old advertisements and catalogues stated that Henry Nanz’s business had been established since 1850. As Henry’s son later wrote in the 1896 catalogue, the senior Nanz set up his business “in a humble way with one little greenhouse, size 10′ x 50′. At that time flowers were in little demand and the wants [of the populace] were supplied from this small establishment.” But the business soon grew larger, along with the city. In the U. S. census of 1860, Henry set his worth in real estate owned at $2,000.

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