Hoopes Bros. & Thomas office, 1900. ©Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.
ou may think of West Chester as your favorite place to eat, drink, and shop, but you probably don't think much about it as an industrial center. There was a time, though, when the borough was a regional manufacturing leader.
all founded here in town, as well as some of the companies who grew the movement further by moving their operations here.
In his (printed in West Chester) 2003 book, Made in West Chester: The History of Industry in West Chester, Pennsylvania 1867 to 1945, historian and WCU Professor Jim Jones explores the history of the industrialization of West Chester, documenting both the timeline for its entry into manufacturing and its secondary expansion. Jones provides an in-depth look at the early companies that formed the foundation for West Chester’s growth into a hub of manufacturing. We recommend reading Jim Jones’ book in its entirety for a more complete picture of West Chester’s early industrialization history. (Note: It’s short, and available for free through West Chester University’s Digital Commons).
A present-day visit to any of the plethora of local farms and farm markets makes it easy to see why West Chester served as the region’s agricultural base in the early 19th century. As such, early industries here aimed squarely at addressing the needs of those plying the agricultural trade, and, according to Jones, the first enterprises to "industrialize" in West Chester were plant nurseries.
In this article, we highlight the stories of West Chester’s original three companies,
Hoopes Brothers & Thomas Nursery
The most successful and pivotal of these was Hoopes Brothers & Thomas Nursery, founded by two local brothers. Just north of the borough on his father’s farm, Josiah Hoopes started a nursery in 1853, using plants imported from England. He started with vegetable plants, and after a few years, added fruit trees. He brought younger brother Abner on board
to his Cherry Hill Nursery in 1857, and they opened a stall in the borough market. The nursery expanded in a big way when the brothers acquired 44 acres along the railroad northeast of town and had really exploded by the Civil War’s end. The brothers brought an accountant neighbor, George B. Thomas, into the fold as a partner, and by 1870, Cherry Hill Nursery employed 100 people at the height of their shipping season. The men had devised a way to mail small plants by placing them in damp moss and then wrapping them in paper. Through a combination of the postal system, the railroad, and steamship, they shipped plants across the U.S., and their first shipment crossed the pond to Europe in 1874. They advertised via displays at the Pennsylvania State Fair in 1875, and sent “carloads of plants” to Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exposition. The growth continued; by 1881 they were up to 300 acres of land, and their greenhouses alone covered more than half an acre. According to their 1882 catalog,
SEPTEMBER 2019 THEWCPRESS.COM
Voice of the Borough