What is a Dahlia?
If you are not a flower aficionado, you may have heard of The Black Dahlia and be wondering how Elizabeth Short is connected to Richmond. Sorry to disappoint but I am talking about the flower, not the 1947 murder. The Aztecs cultivated dahlias not for their beautiful blossom, but for their sweet edible roots. In 1963, dahlias were declared the national flower of Mexico. Dahlias can be traced in America back to 1820 in the Linnaean Botanical Garden catalog.
But in Highland Park?
Development in Highland Park started when it was part of Henrico County with the advent of the streetcar in 1891. In 1914, Richmond City annexed a large amount of land from Henrico and Chesterfield that included the Brookland Park Boulevard corridor and surrounding neighborhoods.The 1914 city directory for Brookland Park Boulevard shows the area had not been significantly developed as a business corridor. In 1919, there are private residences stretching from North Ave. to Fendall Ave; however, there is only one business listed. Hickory Hill Farm at 301 E. Brookland Park Boulevard near the intersection of Woodrow Ave. The 1927 city directory elaborates that this is the Hickory Hill Dahlia Farm. The dahlia farm was owned by J.S. Bosher and shows up in city directories at least until 1929 but it is absent from the 1940 and 1946 city directories. In 1949, a 1,296 square foot 1.5 story house was built on the land. From then on, the property was a private residence.
1960- William T. Frazier
1966- Purchased for $12,300
1970- Letcher S. Chatman
1972- Letcher S. Chatman
1975- Letcher S. Chatman
1980- Letcher S. Chatman
1990- Letcher S. Chatman
1993- Letcher S. Chatman
2003- Transfer to family member
Letcher S. Chatman was the second owner of the home from 1966 until his passing in 2003. Chatman was born in October 1930. He was a Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army where he was deployed to the Korean War and Vietnam War. In 1969 during the Vietnam War, he earned a Bronze Star. I wonder if the Chatman family knew the history of the property or if there were still dahlia’s left when they bought the house.J.S. Bosher advertised his dahlias in various magazines where he listed himself as “The South’s foremost Dahlia Specialist.” Bosher boasted that dahlias grown in the south are more heat resistant and advertised his wide range of varieties. If you were interested in ordering some Hickory Hill dahlias, you would request their most recent catalog.
In 1924, Bosher’s dahlias sold for $0.35-$5.00 each depending on the variety. Accounting for inflation, the 2017 prices would be $5.00-$70.00 per flower. If you wanted a dozen of one flower… just multiply the price by 10. But who was J.S. Bosher? The rest of this is based on connecting the dots to make educated guesses so I could be totally wrong. Here it goes.
J.S. Bosher left the dahlia industry sometime after 1929 which correlates with aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. In 1936 and 1944, Judson Starke Bosher published two books about the history of the Dover Baptist Association in Richmond under the pen name J.S. Bosher.Looking at the Bosher family tree, I did not see another Bosher alive at that time with the initials J.S. Assuming this historian and dahlia expert are one in the same, J.S. Bosher was born October 27, 1873 and died April 27, 1948. He was never married and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery. J.S. Bosher was the son of Edwin J. Bosher and Laura M. Starke. According to Virginia and Virginians: Eminent Virginians by H.H. Hardesty, Edwin J. Bosher left school to join the Confederate States army. He fought as part of the Richmond Howitzers until the surrender at Appomattox. Following the Civil War, Edwin joined his brother Charles to run the family business, R.H. Bosher’s Sons (a carriage business).
So where does this leave our dahlia loving protagonist? Without records, this takes some speculating and assumptions. J.S. Bosher’s father and mother passed away in 1915 and 1917 respectively. J.S.’s brother, Edwin Warren Bosher, was the eldest and likely would have taken over his father’s position at the business. In addition, his uncle Charles, did not pass away until 1931 so he would have probably stayed involved. With no parents to judge him and probably no active role in the family business, J.S. Bosher was free to pursue his passion of dahlia farming.
If you are inspired to bring dahlias back to Northside, here is a resource on how to channel your inner J.S. Bosher dahlia farmer extraordinaire.
Note: Hickory Hill Dahlia Farm’s 1921-1926 catalogs are documented at archive.org
TAGGED: brookland park, Brookland Park Historic District, City Directories, flowers, Highland Park, history, J.S. Bosher, The Valentine, Valentine