Over 100 Years of History in the Hudson Valley
The Battenfelds have been family farmers
in this country for more than one hundred years. The tradition
goes back to a determined patriarch, Conrad Battenfeld, who
came to America from Germany with his wife Elizabeth in the
Conrad Battenfeld established his farmstead in
New York's fertile Hudson Valley, the former breadbasket of
the American Revolution.
In addition to the local markets, proximity to
the Hudson River and its many sloops and steamboats provided
access to markets downriver in New York City.
Like most American farms of that time, Battenfeld
raised fruit, vegetables, livestock, and a family. Eventually
the Battenfeld farm's cash crop was its fruit trees.
Meanwhile, Conrad's sons, Frank and Fred, decided
to focus on raising violets, which were extremely popular
at the time.
For years, violets were the most popular flower
Most of the world's violets came from the violet
belt in the mid Hudson Valley. Rhinebeck was the buckle on
Frank & Fred Battenfeld did very well in violets.
Eventually, Frank left the partnership to invest his earnings
in a grocery business, leaving Fred to expand the farm that
would remain in the family.
Following the Second WorldWar, America's great
affection for violets had faded almost as suddenly as it had
originally swelled. The violet bloom boom was over. One after
another, the Valley's many violet growers closed down. For
nearly all of them, it was the sad end of an era.
the Battenfelds, it was the beginning of another. Fred's son,
Dick, decided to pursue raising Anemones with the same determination
that led his father to raise violets.
Four decades later, Dick Battenfeld is still raising
hybrid anemones, and his son, Fred, represents the fourth
generation of the family now presiding over the farm.
Over the past forty years, Battenfeld's has blossomed
into the world's premier developer and harvester of hybrid
anemones, which are carefully selected, hand-picked, and shipped
fresh-cut direct from the farm in wholesale and retail quantities.
The Violets Of Dutchess County, a History
Rhinebeck - The "Purple Thunderstorm"
For over 90 years, every spring, the towns of
Poughkeepsie, Milan, Red Hook and Rhinebeck produced what
was then called the "purple thunderstorm" spreading
to other counties and cities, and in the golden years, earning
this region almost one million dollars in annual revenue.
Rhinebeck itself was and is still known as the undisputed
Violet Capital of the World.
of its past, the Museum of Rhinebeck History has recently
become the repository of all documents pertaining to this
industry. For our benefit, the archival materials reveal the
dedication and hardships of dozens of families connected in
as many decades in one common purpose: to grow violets commercially
and in the largest scale known in history.
According to the 1912 American Florist Company
Directory, that year, the whole area surrounding Rhinebeck
counted with 121 greenhouses, operating 238 violet houses.
Among the most successful growers the list included the Saltford,
Coon, Battenfeld, and Von der Linden families.
The success of the "blue gold" crop
(as violets were then called) was based on the fact that these
flowers grew very happy in this New York State region due
to some mysterious quality in the area's soil. Proof of that
was that violet stock imported from Europe adapted and bloomed
in this part of America like never before. Others liked to
point out the goodness of Dutchess County's climate, with
its "cold nights and sunny days" as well as its
proximity to the Catskills Mountains.
Battenfeld, (F.W. Battenfeld & Sons) scion of one of the
area's first families of violet growers, recalls that after
the flowers had grown sufficiently in size, the beds were
mulched with a combination of straw and manure to take care
of the weed problem. Harvesting would start in late September
and continue well into Easter, but seldom around Mother's
Day unless it was an unusual cold spring.
While most of the violet houses employed
regular help they also made use of part-time help, hiring
women willing to supplement the family income. "Violet
picking" also attracted the local children who were encouraged
by the possibility of making almost three dollars a day in
exchange for their hard, fast work.
Local Hudson River Valley areas newspapers delighted
in pointing out to the whole world that during the season,
the streets of Rhinebeck, -- boasting an eponymous Violet
Avenue (now Route 9-G)-- literally smelled of violets, thanks
to violet-filled wagons on their way to the steamboat landings.
The same fragrant air was noted in the neighboring towns of
Red Hook and Milan. In due time, the perfumed cargo would
be shipped to the City of New York by train and reach other
destinations in the fastest possible way then available.
Violets, considered flowers of elegance, were
particularly coveted in Boston, but only on St. Valentine's
Day, when they were displayed as the exquisite touch atop
a box of chocolates, and remained a definite winner all over
New England, and on the other hand, after enjoying supremacy
at Christmas time as a suitable arrangement or offering, they
were taken over, albeit gradually, by the longer lasting and
colorful poinsettias. With regard to their traditional role
in bridal bouquets, the time had also arrived for violets
to endure and share honors with lilies of the valley, and
that newcomer, the white orchid.
In the early 60s, the violet industry ceased to
be. Most Dutchess County growers faced the new times and moved
on, with the exception of a few who out of a sense of family
tradition, continued with very small violet productions. One
of them is Richard Battenfeld , owner of a successful anemone
business who still grows a few hundred violet flowers per
season...for old times' sake, he likes to say. Mr. Battenfeld's
modest violet production pays homage to a long tradition that
refuses to go. Up to this day, he's the only custodian and
source for the old 'Frey's Fragrant' cultivar.
--By Norma Beredjiklian. Reprinted in part