The two major Hudson Valley, New York, violet towns, Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County, are 80 miles north of New York City. By 1854, railroads connected growers in the Hudson Valley with markets in New York City via a three-hour, early morning freight train route. In the 1880s and 1890s, wearing highly perishable fragrance flowers was fashionable among urban women. The winter-blooming fragrance flowers were violets, and they were grown as close as possible to where they were worn.
William Saltford in Rhinebeck
William Saltford was the son of an English florist who trained him to be a head gardener capable of managing large country estates, including greenhouses. In 1872, Saltford immigrated to New York after accepting a position with livestock breeder and farmer William Kelley of Rhinebeck. Kelley was already a greenhouse producer, mentioned as an endorser of a radiant heat boiler in the September 1871 issue of "Gardeners Monthly and Horticultural Advisor."
William Saltford's brother George Saltford joined him in America. On Sept. 27, 1878, a "The New York Times" article noted that George Saltford, as a private gardener, won a Best Exhibit of Stove and Greenhouse Plants award for his employer, Mrs. Miller of Rhinebeck. In 1886, the Saltford brothers launched Rhinebeck's violet industry in five glasshouses near the railroad line. Each house accommodated 3,500 plants. The Saltfords and other growers drove Rhinebeck violet production to more than 50 million cut flowers annually. George Saltford kept meticulous records of daily temperatures inside his greenhouses and daily hours of full sunlight that are still useful to violet growers.
By 1900, 20 percent of Rhinebeck's 1,600 residents were employed in greenhouse violet growing. Rhinebeck had almost as many greenhouses as residential buildings, with a single year's violet crop earning enough to finance an investment in three or four greenhouses. The 1908 Rhinebeck crop was 25 percent of U.S. violet production and was valued at $250,000, or almost $5 million in year 2000 dollars. Production was accomplished in 450,000 square feet of glasshouse with the season peaking at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In 1897, George Saltford was elected president of the Dutchess County Horticultural Society, and his brother William was treasurer. By 1905, William Saltford's business was situated at Poughkeepsie, a town of 30,000 population, where he and his sons operated a florist shop and 30,000 square feet of glasshouse. Their featured products were violets and roses, as well as 150,000 cut carnations annually and seasonal products such as Easter lilies. Their market included students at Poughkeepsie's Vassar College, at that time an all-women's school, as well as the wholesale market down the rail line in New York City.
On April 15, 1979, "The New York Times" reported that the cut flower industry had moved west, and Eugene Trombini, the last wholesale violet grower in Rhinebeck, closed six of his seven greenhouses. The Trombini family had operated most Hudson Valley violet production from 1948 to 1974. At the height of production, they produced 6 million plants annually in 18 greenhouses.