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Historically Speaking: Florists a big part of Dover

Historically Speaking: Florists a big part of Dover

Hide caption A colorful assortment of flowers and plants have long been part of Dover’s history.[Rich Beauchesne/Seacoastonline, file] Over the years Dover has been known for many things — calico cloth, woolen cloth, brick yards, shoes, electronics — but not a great deal of notice has been given to its role as a producer of flowers. There is a substantial bit of history here.

In the late 1880s, a man named Henry Johnson bought some land on the south side of Garrison Hill from Joseph Ham and built several greenhouses. On April 8, 1891 there was a fire and a good portion of the premises was destroyed or badly damaged. (Contemporary reports commented on the poor performance of the responding fire crews.)

The business was then sold in 1893 to Charles Luke Howe. Howe had moved to Dover from Nashua several years previously where he had been involved in several floral enterprises. Upon arrival he opened the Sunnyside Conservatories on Rutland Street “a 4-minute walk from the Sawyer Depot.”

He abandoned this business in favor of the Garrison Hill location which, by 1905, he had turned into the largest greenhouse operation in the state, with 14 glass structures and several acres of outside plantings (he had bought additional land from Joe Ham). The size of the operation was such that he was able to open and supply retail outlets in Portland and Augusta, Portsmouth and Laconia. He put down more roots by marrying a local woman, Ellen “Nellie” Vittum, and he built a sizable home adjacent to the greenhouse complex. In addition to growing flowers he was an active member of the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and a relatively exclusive organization, the Society of the Colonial Wars (perhaps the male equivalent of the Daughters of the American Revolution?).

In 1921, Howe sold the business to Elwill Shortridge, a prominent Dover entrepreneur, owner of the C.E. Brewster Co., wholesale druggists, which was located in a building at the corner of Chestnut and Fourth streets, now the site of St. Mary’s Parish Hall. At one time Shortridge also served as president of Merchants National Bank and president of the Dover Realty Co. He and his wife, who had been Ada Massingham, lived at 4 West Concord St., and he remained active in the business until his death in 1946. Ada then took over and with her nephew, Tom Massingham, managed the operation until her death in 1958.

Tom Massingham had been born in England, but at age 5 was sent by his family to Dover to live with the Shortridges. As a young man he worked in the business, served in World War II, and upon his return and at Ada’s death, became the owner of the Garrison Hill Greenhouses. In 1950, he was one of the first to construct a building on the nascent Miracle Mile, at what was then called Page’s corner, opposite Glenwood Avenue. It was originally intended to be a retail flower and gift shop, but on Nov. 25-26 Mother […]

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