The Nursery Office: An A.J. Davis Gothic Revival Masterpiece

Photography by George Cassidy Payne

Alexander Jackson Davis, or A. J. Davis, was one of the most successful and influential American architects of his generation, known particularly for his association with the Gothic Revival style.


By 1850, the population of Rochester had reached 36,000, making it the 21st largest city in the United States. Westward expansion had moved the focus of farming to the Great Plains and Rochester’s importance as the center for flour milling had declined. Several seed companies in Rochester had grown to become the largest in the world, with Ellwanger & Barry Nursery Co. the largest. Rochester’s nickname was changed from the Flour City to the Flower City.


Plant the love of the holy ones within your spirit; don’t give your heart to anything, but the love of those whose hearts are glad. Rumi


Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. Robert Louis Stevenson


George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry were owners of one of the largest nurseries in Rochester. Ellwanger began the business in with Thomas Rogers in 1839 but by 1840 he had bought Rogers out and partnered with Barry who was more knowlegeable than Rogers. Their first site, the Mount Hope Garden and Nurseries, grew to 43 acres by 1843 and was the basis of an extremely profitable wholesale business. By 1860 Ellwanger and Barry would control over 500 acres in the area. They grew a wide variety of plants, including fruit trees. They earned an impressive seven awards at the 1849 NY State Fair in Syracuse. Ellwanger frequently traveled to Europe, bringing back seeds and cuttings to cultivate here.


If we don’t plant the right things, we will reap the wrong things. It goes without saying. And you don’t have to be, you know, a brilliant biochemist and you don’t have to have an IQ of 150. Just common sense tells you to be kind, ninny, fool. Be kind. Maya Angelou


The success of the Rochester nursery trade, as exemplified by the Mt. Hope Nursery, earned Rochester the title “The Flower City.” The Lilac Festival maintains the heritage of that name, and Ellwanger Garden gives you the chance to experience the inspiration of that heritage.


Gothic Revival (also referred to as Victorian Gothic, Neo-Gothic or Jigsaw Gothic, and when used for school, college, and university buildings as Collegiate Gothic) is an architectural movement that began in the late 1740s in England.


The Gothic Revival was to remain one of the most potent and long-lived of the 19th-century revival styles. Although it began to lose force after the third quarter of the 19th century, buildings such as churches and institutions of higher learning were constructed in the Gothic style in England and in the United States until well into the 20th century. Only when new materials and concern for functionalism began to take hold did the Gothic Revival disappear.

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