Hinsdale gives rise to American Beauty

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 20

April's showers are resulting in a colorful yield of May flowers across the village. And no flower past or present is more associated with Hinsdale than the American Beauty Rose.

The rose was declared the village's official flower in a May 2 proclamation celebrating the village's 150th anniversary.

According to records in the Hinsdale Historical Society's archives, the brilliant bloom's local roots can be traced back to 1887, when printing company owner Orland Bassett and his son-in-law and lumber businessman Charles Washburn settled in town. The pastoral community was ideal for the horticultural hobbyists.

"They decided to build a dome-shaped greenhouse with a fish pond in the center on the south side of Sixth Street," chronicles Hugh Dugan in "Village on the County Line."

The pastime quickly became a professional pursuit.

"They added a wing to each end of the central building and imported manetti, a type of root, from Europe. To this root they grafted rose scions, and thus produced American Beauty roses," Dugan recounts.

When the roses were introduced commercially in 1888, they found a receptive clientele.

"To (Bassett's) pioneering is credited the fame of Chicago as for many years the world's great American Beauty market," reads Bassett's 1921 obituary.

Bassett had his family's residence built at 329 E. Sixth St. and even had canvas murals depicting the American Beauty painted on the ceiling of the home's double parlor. The house still stands, restored after a devastating 2018 fire.

The Bassett & Washburn firm steadily added more greenhouses to its growing empire until the complex eventually covered 40 acres between Seventh and Eighth streets from Elm Street to County Line Road.

"The rose plant nurseries were constructed out of nine tons of glass molded around cypress wood frames," details one account.

Bassett "was regarded as one of the most prominent growers in the west" and "his establishment was visited by aspiring florists from all over the country," his obituary noted. The company was also Hinsdale's largest employer in its heyday with 85 staff. Products were shipped from Galveston to Winnipeg and Salt Lake City to New York, notes another newspaper clipping, and "(The greenhouses) consumed an average of 12,000 tons of coal annually."

Not surprisingly, flowers also featured prominently in Bassett's personal life. According to an account of the burial of first wife Betsy in January of 1897, "English violets completely hid the earth of the grave from view, while expensive floral pieces and the rarest of cut flowers diffused their fragrance through the large tent, which protected the mourners and friends from the intensely cold weather."

Bassett left the business to his son-in-law in 1907 and retired to California. But his legacy as a leader "not only in growing flowers, but in marketing them" lives on in Hinsdale's heritage.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean