Thursday, June 1, 2017

1903 Kearney, Nebraska Farm Photo

Henry Franks farm near Kearney, Nebraska. Photographer: Solomon D. Butcher. ca. 1903. Glass plate negative 6x8. Nebraska State Historical Society. Library of Congress.

Every Thursday a carefully selected old agricultural photo is featured here on Big Picture Agriculture — lest we forget how things used to be.


  1. I'm impressed with those vines growing up the house!


    1. Any idea what it is? Virginia creeper aka woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) maybe? Nice as the shade is from the vine, they no doubt regretted it when it came time to repaint the house.

      Is that a small orchard in the foreground?


    2. Tam,
      Agree that it is probably Virginia Creeper. Why it surprised me in this photo is because I rarely, if ever, saw vines growing on any farmhouses when I grew up in Nebr. Farmers are very practical, so perhaps they knew about the maintenance problems associated with aggressive vines.

      It also made me think that this family may have relocated from the East somewhere and brought plants with them including the vine and fruit tree starts. That would be a very interesting subject that I know little about - how did these early settlers obtain their plants? Were they all started from seeds or were there mail order nurseries and stores in the bigger towns available in the late 1800s? I looked up the population of Kearney in 1900 and it was 5,600.

      Yes, no doubt an orchard area in front, but quite impressive how many plants they have going.

    3. I am impressed, too. It looks like a jungle compared to what would naturally be there on that flat, flat ground (look at the far horizon!).

      I hadn't thought about the WHERE of the fruit trees and other plants, either. But Ah! the internet. I just found this--

      "C.W. Gurney . . . founded Hesperian Nurseries in 1869 along a homesteading trail 60 miles southeast of Yankton [then Dakota Territory, now South Dakota]. Homesteaders needed trees for proof of settlement and for shade, fruit, windbreak and as reminders of home.

      Hesperian Nurseries operated differently than modern-day nurseries. The Gurneys didn’t collect payment until a year after planting, and only charged for trees that were still thriving. C.W. Gurney’s planting and tree care techniques kept his nursery business solvent with the two-season guarantee. He and his sons established a branch of his business called Yankton Nursery in 1898. Later it was known as House of Gurney and it became Gurney Seed and Nursery Company in 1941."

      And here is a catalog from 1900-- more varieties than are offered now. See pages 96-98 for climbing vines, which gives more possibilities for what's growing on the house.


    4. Thanks for doing that research, Tam. We ordered out of Gurney's catalogue every year. That makes sense that they'd have been establishing themselves that long ago.

      It always amazes me to this day how companies guarantee plants. I've planted hundreds, probably thousands of plants over the years and I'll bet I've only asked for a refund 3 times. Always figured it was my fault if something died.