Recently I spent several months writing The Greening Nursery Company: Born 1850 and An American Success Story. A section of the book describes the development of the landscape division and its diverse list of clients – wealthy homeowners, public works projects, building landscaping, early sprinkler systems, and more.
Charles E. Greening founded this division in 1912. Many of these projects were among the earliest iterations of the use of landscape plants, irrigation, and ornamental garden structures/buildings in the United States.
In Monroe, Greening designed the landscaping for the iconic George Harley Wood residence at 311 East Elm Avenue, corner of East Elm and Lincoln Ave. The house – currently owned by Ken and Karen Calendar and identified by Preservation, Cultural Resources and Special Projects Consultant for the City of Monroe Jeff Green as an Arts & Crafts-style house with Tudor elements – can trace ties to the River Raisin Paper Company where Wood was Vice President. The factory was built nearby in 1915 on land now occupied by River Raisin Battlefield State Park – the site of the Frenchtown settlement and one of Michigan’s first European settlements.
In the 1920s, the River Raisin Paper Company employed nearly 1,000 workers and produced nearly 500 tons of product. In the 1940s, the company produced product advances for the United States military during World War II and the Vietnam conflict – the latter while the company was owned by Jefferson Smurfit in 1957.
The George Harley Wood Residence was completed in 1915 and listed in American Contractor Volume 37 (1916) as a two-story 56′ x 50′ structure designed by architect Horace Wachter of Toledo, Ohio and built by Toledo builder J. Jackson and Son worth $40,000 (over $1 million today). Wachter was part of the Harry Wachter Company run by his father which designed many of Toledo’s iconic homes in the West End as well as the Toledo Museum of Art.
The work of the Greening Landscape Division on the property has been extensive. A number of garden structures were used, including the Sunken Garden and the Tea House – a wooden trellis structure in the shape of a circular sphere. The brick walls and planters also held greening grown shrubs and annuals as well as ornamental trees and shrubs.
According to an interview with her grandson (also named “Harley”), reported in an April 17, 2011 Monroe News article:
George Harley Wood Jr. of Monroe, known as Harley, is named after his great-grandfather. “He [George Harley Wood – born in 1872] was one of the founders of River Raisin Paper Company,” he said. “When he died in 1939, my grandfather (Charles L. Wood) took over. He was president until his retirement in 1960.” Naturally, Mr. Wood Jr. also worked at the paper mill. Working in the mill during the summers of 1978 and 1979, Mr. Wood Jr. did several jobs around the mill, including work in the beater room where paper was recycled into large rolls. “It was like a big blender,” he said of the job. “Heavy, industrial paper was turned into boxes… We picked up the scraps and put them in the beater. The machine was running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” He describes the working conditions as hot and dangerous. “Factory work was a real education,” he said. “The most dangerous jobs were working on the paper machines themselves. A lot of guys have lost fingers. Very few had all 10 fingers. Although he only worked two summers at the factory, he loved it. I was the fourth generation (of the Wood family) to work there and be a part of it,” he said. “I’m proud to say I worked there.”
Tom Adamich is president of the Visiting Librarian Service, a business he has operated since 1993. He is also a project archivist for the Greening Nursery Company and Family Archives.
This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Monroe County History: Log House Was Built By Paper Company Executive