Monday, November 2, 2009

Philip Bork, Nurseryman

Does anyone out there know family stories, anecdotes, or really anything about Philip Bork (1841-1915), of Tiffin, Ohio? Or have his picture? If so, contact me at: Alan Borer, 568 Illinois Ct., Westerville, Ohio 43081.

Here's my first publication about Philip Bork, in Bend of the River, October 2008, p. 31:

I like to reconstruct history using old letters. This takes me to stamp shows, where I look for certain places and topics among the fragments of correspondence. When I come across a stamp dealer's box of old envelopes that are sorted by county, I rummage for certain ones. The counties that I am hunting for are Sandusky, Wood, Lucas and Seneca.

When I find a Seneca County offering, I frequently run across envelopes addressed to "Philip Bork" of Tiffin, Ohio, who was in the nursery business. This story is how I followed a faint trail from my great-great-grandmother's brother in law to the story of how a cherry variety was lost.

A very long time ago, my grandfather showed me a letter from his grandmother that was about a failed attempt at homesteading the Kansas prairie. In it, she described their living conditions - an earthen basement where her son was born. The antique letter was addressed to her sister in Tiffin, Ohio, Mrs. Philip Bork.

So when I discovered an old envelope adressed to Philip Bork at a stamp collector's show, I pounced on it. The postmark was "Adrian, Ohio" and it read as follows:

"April 4, 1900 . . . Dear Sir, Please send us your price list of fruit trees and grape vines as we saw your advertisement in the 'Seneca Advertiser.' In cherry trees I would like to know if you have the Early Richmond, Dye House and Montmorency varieties. Please favor me with an early reply....John Reahle"

My first inquiry was into a massive "Centennial Biographical History of Seneca County, Ohio" that was published in 1902. I learned that Philip Bork was born in Bloom Township, Seneca County in 1841. His parents were German immigrants.

He married Mary Fischer in 1872 and they had two children. The couple settled on a 103 acre farm. And the same he married, Philip Bork "sowed some seed for fruit trees and has gradually increased his nursery business until he had an excellent nursery of three acres and enjoyed a very liberal patronage."

Mr. Bork also farmed wheat, oats and corn. The nurseryman was a devout Catholic and a staunch Democrat. His wife, Mary Fischer Bork, was my great-great grandmother's sister (Barbara Fischer Borer).

What else could be learned from the letter? Adrian is a farming village about halfway between Tiffin and Carey, Ohio. I gathered from the text of the letter that it came from someone interested enough in planting cherry trees to already be aware of some of the varieties available. "Montmorency" is propbably the most popular variety of sour cherry even today. And "Early Richmond," another sour cherry, is also still very much around. But "Dye House?" That one was a puzzle.

My next clue was another gigantic work, musty with age, but containing beautifully engraved prints. Entitled "The Cherries of New York" by U. P. Hedrick, it was published by the State of New York Department of Agriculture in 1915. And it fully described the Dye House variety as a very early ripener, "attractive in appearance and equally well-flavored." The book noted that the cherry was named for an early grower, a Mr. Dyehouse of Lincoln County, Kentucky, and that it was similar to the "Early Richmond" and "ought to be grown both for home and commercial purposes far more than it is."

The Dye House cherry if today among the "lost" varieties of the fruit. In a 1998 report on rare fruit, Dye House is listed as a variety of cherry that is no longer grown or available from nurseries.

An expert in stone fruit, Andy Mariani commented to me: I do not know of any source for Dye House cherry . . . . In the last decade, many old named varieties have simply gone by the wayside. However, there still may be a remaining Dye House cherry tree somewhere in a backyard or private collection."

Thus, whether my ancestor, Philip Bork, had any Dye House cherries for sale in 1900 is still a mystery. It makes me aware of how many varieties of fruit there once were, and how few there are today.

(The author wishes to thank Sarah DeSanctis of the University of Rochester and Andy Mariani of the Rare Fruit Growers Association for their information.)

(to be continued)

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