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Memories of a Monumental Greenhouse

SALISBURY — For many years the intersection of Taconic Road and Beaver Dam Road in the Taconic section of town was dominated by a large Victorian-era greenhouse.

As a child, I heard many stories about it and the exotic plant life that once grew in it. It was large by any standard, with a three-story section called the "palm house" that, appropriately enough, once contained palm trees. My father claimed that at one time it also had a banana tree and citrus trees, so that fresh fruit could be picked year ’round right here in Connecticut.

The greenhouse was operated by the Scoville brothers, Robert and Herbert, who both built mansions in Taconic and who operated the nearby Grassland Farm for breeding dairy cattle.

Located just north of the Robert Scoville mansion called "Stonehouse," the greenhouse was the domain of one Walter Angus, a Scotsman who had been hired by the brothers to oversee both the greenhouse and the rest of the estate holdings.

Mr. Angus’s daughter, Annie Angus Cutting, recounted life on the estate in a privately published memoir titled, "The Gardener’s Daughter." (Much of the information in this article was gleaned from its pages.)

My grandfather, Charlie Paddock, came to live with the Angus family in the summer of 1920, having been hired to drive for the Scovilles. At the time, he was a widower and so he brought my father (also Charlie Paddock) along with him to spend the summer in Taconic. It was impossible, of course, to live in the Angus household and not become acquainted with the greenhouse. Many years later, my father recounted his experiences there and I found the stories fascinating.

Unfortunately, the greenhouse was long gone before I heard the first story about it. Ever since, I have tried to find some pictures of it so that I could imagine what it must have been like. By a stroke of good luck, the Cutting family preserved some views of the greenhouse and donated them to the Salisbury Association so that we can all see what once was.

The greenhouse was an L-shaped structure with several distinct rooms for plants: the mum house, the grape house, the orchid house and the palm house.

Each room had special facilities for the plants it contained. In addition, there was a support building that was used to store soil, fertilizer and other supplies. It also had benches used to make up flats and pots.

In time, the "potting shed" grew to include a mushroom garden (no windows there) and an apartment for one of the hired hands. There was also a small stable and an underground root cellar for storing vegetables.

Mr. Angus was an expert in greenhouse management and was talented in the growing of orchids, which grew above a special tank that provided humidity for the plants.

In addition to the orchids, there was a long list of other plants to be found in the greenhouse. Among them were grapes, figs, chrysanthemums, ferns and countless ornamental flowers and fruit. Many of the things grown there were entered in shows both locally and in cities like Boston and New York, often winning prizes for their quality.

The three-story palm house did not look as big as it really was because its floor was below the level of the surrounding land. It was supposedly built over a quarry that had been used to supply stone for the Robert Scoville mansion, which accounted for its depth.

In addition to all the other plants, the greenhouse was used to start all the seeds for the outside gardens on the estate. In early spring, the greenhouse contained boxes of tomatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage and flowers that would eventually mature outdoors.

The Angus household (and other estate workers, too) always had the first fresh produce in the spring. Angus also made up the numerous flower arrangements that decorated the interior of the mansions. Baskets for the foyers, centerpieces and the like were made up from the abundant stock of the greenhouse. Parties and dinners doubtless called for many more floral pieces.

Two events in 1917 marked the beginning of the end for the greenhouse. The United States entered World War I; and the Robert Scoville mansion burned. Much of the greenhouse was shut down to save fuel for the war effort. The Robert Scoville mansion was not rebuilt until 1930, so no plants were needed for its gardens or interior for many years.

In due course the cost of running and maintaining the greenhouse made it impractical to continue operation and it was finally torn down.

Today none of the greenhouse itself remains, only some foundations and a tennis court mark the spot where it once stood. The adjoining brick potting shed has been expanded and remodeled into a private home and is the only structure that survives.

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