Building the Future While Honoring the Past

We all have a family history—a past of great grandparents, a long-ago home country, events that shaped our families trajectory. Land has a history too. At Rockwater, we strive to build the future while honoring the past.

The beautiful homes of Rockwater are built on real estate that once belonged to the Vestal Family and was the site of the Vestal Nursery. As a reminder of that rich history, the homes of the Rockwater neighborhood surround the Vestal Chimney. The chimney was part of the green houses heating system.

Vestal Rockwater Banner

Not only have we kept the Vestal Chimney, we also use photos from the Vestal Nursery catalogues on banners and in landscaping.

The land has even more history predating the Vestal’s purchase of the land. We would love to learn more about the rich history that preceded the Vestal Nursery so we could honor and incorporate that past as well.

The information on the Vestal Nursery below is from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas and its excellent history of the Vestal Nursery. To read the full article, click here, and to view pictures of the gorgeous Vestal Nursery catalogues, click here.

The Vestal Nursery, based in the Baring Cross neighborhood of North Little Rock (Pulaski County), operated for more than 100 years, cultivating and shipping flowers across the United States. By the mid-twentieth century, it had one of the largest greenhouse spaces in the United States.

Joseph Wysong Vestal, a Quaker horticulturist in Cambridge City, Indiana, grew and sold plants as early as 1855, following prior Vestal family advancements in horticultural technology.

Seeking both a warmer climate and a more favorable shipping radius, the forty-four-year-old J. W. Vestal relocated in 1880 to the north bank of the Arkansas River, adjacent to the 1873 Baring Cross railway bridge at what was then part of Little Rock (Pulaski County). The location choice was influenced by the availability of low-cost riverine agricultural land from the Iron Mountain Railroad. By 1880, annual sales exceeded $8,000, and plants were shipped to all states east of the Rocky Mountains, especially to Chicago and St. Louis. By 1884, fresh flowers were sold daily through Hughes’s Drugstore, at the corner of Little Rock’s Main and Second streets. J. W. Vestal added his youngest son, Charles Howell Vestal, to the business name in 1890.

With the notation of “Re-Established at Little Rock, 1881,” J. W. Vestal & Son continued publication of the annual catalogue of “Select, New, Rare, and Beautiful Plants; Roses.” Vestal’s business publicity prompted the City of Little Rock’s unsuccessful attempt to annex the Vestal agricultural lands in 1891. In an Arkansas Supreme Court case decided by Judge Uriah M. Rose, this attempt was rejected. This decision helped motivate the Argenta community to organize into what is today the city of North Little Rock.

Vestal Catalog Image 2

By 1957, J. W. Vestal & Son operations grossed over a million dollars in annual revenue with about eighty employees in one of the largest U.S. greenhouse ranges. The greenhouses totaled more than 300,000 square feet under glass and were heated by steam from three large coal-burning boilers, later converted to natural gas. Hundreds of acres of nursery fields were also in production. Cut-flower buildings with refrigeration were constructed and a retail store operated in the Marion Hotel, with a second wholesale location established in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). During the 1950s, J. W. Vestal & Son produced more than 1.2 million cut chrysanthemums and 750,000 cut roses on a year-round basis.

Overtime, the floral industry changed and the Vestal Nursery closed down in the 1980’s. On the original river site, all that remains of Vestal Nursery in the twenty-first century is the ninety-foot brick smokestack built in the early 1930s to replace the original taller smokestack damaged by the 1927 flood.

Rockwater is proud to safeguard the chimney and to keep an interesting feature that the neighbors of Rockwater can see and enjoy from their homes and their evening strolls around the neighborhood.

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