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Parker Brothers Nursery Co., and John Parker and Son Nursery Co.

Letterhead, 1921. Ruth Morris Collection

Part of the strength of the apple industry in Northwest Arkansas was due to the many nurseries that sprung up, beginning in the early 19th century. A few of the larger nurseries included: Crider Brothers Nursery (Greenland);
Benton County Nursery Co. (Rogers); Stark Brothers Nursery (Farmington); and Parker Brothers Nursery Co. and its offshoot, John Parker and Son Nursery Co.

Lewis Parker began a home nursery business in Aurora (Madison County) in 1887. As the business grew his elder sons James and John helped with the nursery and began selling stock further afield. A flowery 1922 account in the Fayetteville Democrat recounts the nursery’s early years:

As a result of these labors, hundreds of home and commercial orchards have been established. …Who will say that these patient, plodding men labored only for the price brought by their trees? No, these men had a vision and as they worked and helped to lay the foundation of our great fruit industry this vision lured them on. They could see in the future vast orchards, vineyards and berry farms. They sensed afar the day that is now dawning when well developed fruit lands is bringing a flow of golden wealth to good old Northwest Arkansas.

Eventually younger sons George and Elmer joined the business. After Lewis’ retirement in the early 1900s, his sons established their own nurseries. Elmer stayed in Aurora while James went to Oklahoma. George started the Parker Brothers Nursery Co. in Fayetteville, with acreage for growing stock in Greenland. John worked for the company for 20 years as salesman and “Orchard Adviser.”

Early in 1922 John established John Parker & Son Nursery Co., “a clean little nursery” in Fayetteville. His split with brother George might have been acrimonious, as John’s early letterhead included the phrase, “Not connected in any way with ‘so-called’ Parker Bros. Nursery Co.” In 1922 John recounted his business philosophy:

Father tried to grow the best trees possible. He was a firm believer in the “Golden Rule” and applied it in his business dealings. I shall never forget the few sound principles which he tried to impress on us as we were getting our first years of experience with him in the Nursery work. ...First, learn your business so that you will know a good tree and how to produce it. Be sure that you never put a tree in a man’s order that you would not plant yourself. Be absolutely honest with everybody you deal with.

Certificate authorizing E. L. Morris of Lincoln, Arkansas, as a sales representative for Parker Brothers Nursery. Ruth Morris Collection

The following excerpts come from letters written to Emmett Lee Morris of Lincoln, who served first as an agent for the Parker Brothers Nursery Co., before working for John M. Parker & Son Nursery Co. in 1922. Morris and his fellow agents worked on commission and were constantly being told to sell more stock, to write up orders correctly, to not promise something that couldn’t be delivered, and to follow through and get the payment due the company. The first few letters were written by George Parker; the remainder by John.

April 16, 1921
“We wish to offer here a little bit of advice to our salesmen and to stress the importance of starting early on Monday morning and to keep busy with hammer and tongs for the full six days of the week. We are lead to believe that Monday is the most important day of the week. ...Week end vacations are all very well for retired business men, but you can’t indulge in this extravagance and stay in the business race. ...Benjamin Franklin could not afford to waste a minute. Edison works eighteen hours a day. The men who win are the men who make every day stand on its own feet. They are Six Day Men. Are You?”

April 26, 1921
“Our letter of the 16th ...evidently brought results as 26 men reported last week against the 14 the week before. Now men, this makes us feel optimistic. We are only two reports behind a year ago. This is fine, considering the cold, rainy, backward spring we have had, but summer is now here. ..Remember, the more you work the more you get. Here are the ten high ones of this week. Are you a top notcher? ...Morris $935.80, Gingles $513.75, Chamblin $340.50, Gilbert $237.94...Each one of our salesmen should consider it his duty right now to suggest to his prospective customer that he plant and raise what he consumes...He will be apt to bring up the subject of canned fruit. Here is your opportunity. Make the best of it, and be an optimist all the time. Always read the optimistic parts of the news papers. Never read the pessimistic side.”

February 1, 1922
“Upon looking over our Sales Ledger this morning, I notice that you are not reporting, and wonder what our firm has done, or has not done, that this should be. Good opportunities and valuable time is fast passing away. I trust that the fact that you are not representing us now is not due to any discourteous or unsatisfactory treatment from this end. ...It is now a desirable time to take up the work, there never was more money in circulation and more business activity in our history than at the present time, and I would like to have you represent us in your locality. Your name will be held on my desk, awaiting your prompt answer.”

October 30, 1923
“Sorry to hear you have not been able to work. ...We can furnish the Summer Champion in the 3-4 ft. grade, but have no Shannon in stock. ...One thing we want to avoid: Do not make a fellow believe that they will be 3-4 ft. and if the order is written is written up 2-3 ft. that is the grade we will send him. We guarantee the roots to be absolutely No. 1. ...”

March 11, 1924
“We wish to thank you for the $108.10 and will say that we think you are handling that business very nicely, at least we are perfectly satisfied with your work.”

August 27, 1924
“You do not need a permit to sell trees in Oklahoma. However, we will guarantee to get you out of jail, and if you get in trouble we will pay the expenses. ...We are very glad to hear that you have a car and that you are going to work at once. I believe the month of September and October will be the best two months in this year.”

December 4, 1924
“Please find enclosed our check for $3.12, the 10% advance commission due on your last report which amounted to $31.28.”

February 10, 1925
“I do not know just how the packing crew happened to leave C.E. Phillips order out. It was shipped out by C.O.D. express direct to him Feb. 7th. Roll in the orders as fast as possible. We will deliver the goods.”

February 10, 1925
“I wish that you were in the office so I could take my hat off to you. I would willingly expose my marble top to the man that gets one hundred cents on the dollar. ...We are glad to know that you have prospects for more good business. Hit while the iron is hot. We all know we are giving the farmer the best deal he has ever had from any nursery company.”

February 18, 1925
“We sold over $700.00 cash business from the office that day, and got the money. About $300.00 yesterday. Get in the ring and tell the boys they had better close the deal now.”

December 4, 1925
“We note what you say in regard to Mr. Glidewell’s order. In regard to replacing, we will stand one-half the loss, but we really believe the dry weather was responsible for most of this loss.”

February 18, 1926
“We received a notice from the P.M. [postmaster] at Summers, that G.E. Hall had refused to accept his bill of nursery stock which we shipped out a few days ago. We would like for you to see what is the matter with him, and try to deliver it if possible. We cannot understand why he does not want it now, as this is fine weather for planting. We have written him telling him to call and get his stock at once, but we believe you had better see about it too, as he may be a pretty hard one to convince.”

March 12, 1926
“Just received your letter, and are glad to know you had 100% collections, and we always know that you will get the money when we ship to your customers. Will be glad to see you whenever you can come up with the money.”

January 21, 1928
“Don’t let anybody get by if they want to buy apples, peach, plum, pear or cherries.”

March 15, 1928
“We are wondering why it is you have not sent in some orders. You surely are not working very hard, as I am sure there is a number of people not far from where you live who want to buy some of our good trees. ...Please put in at least 1 or 2 days and get some orders and rush them to us.”

March 19, 1929
“I was very much disappointed that I failed to meet you in the office this afternoon. I gave your boy samples of Stayman Winesap and we have a big surplus in Stayman, Red Delicious and Black Ben Davis in this extra fine 2 year old tree. Sell them at $20.00 per hundred if you can. If they take 50 or more sell them at 20¢. We will give you ¼ of all the money we collect. ...We would like for you to go out and work a few days and see how much you can make. Rush the orders to us and if you have to give a fellow a Golden Delicious to buy, tell him we are making him a present of the same kind of tree that Stark Brothers sell for $1.50. Anything to get the business and we always appreciate your business because we have never failed to get the money on your orders.” Yours for More & Better Fruit, John Parker


The Heyday of the Apple Industry

The End, and Revival, of the Apple Industry

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