Taking Root: The Summer Brothers and the History of Pomaria Nursery
June 12 - September 20, 2014, 2nd floor, North Gallery
Beginning in June, McKissick Museum will host an exhibit on the history of Pomaria Nursery, a renowned nursery that thrived from the 1840s to the 1870s in central South Carolina. Pomaria was the first major nursery to develop in the lower and middle South and became the center of a bustling town that, today, bears its name. Begun by William Summer in the late 1830s, it grew into one of the most important American nurseries of the antebellum period, offering wide varieties of fruit trees and ornamentals to gardeners throughout the South. At its peak, the nursery offered over 1000 varieties of apples, pears, peaches, plums, figs, apricots and grapes developed and chosen specifically for the southern climate, as well as an equal number of ornamentals, including 400 varieties of repeat-blooming roses for the South. William Summer also published catalogs containing well selected and thoroughly tested varieties of plants, and assisted his brother, Adam, in publishing several agricultural journals throughout the 1850s and until 1862.
Highlighting the life of William and Adam Summer and other individuals who contributed to the nursery’s success, the exhibition will feature their innovative technologies, from the Summers’ pioneering scientific approach to horticulture, to their new techniques for fruit tree and flower breeding, to the nursery’s introduction of new ornamentals to the American continent. The show will hopefully bring new appreciation for the advancements and beauty that this horticultural endeavor brought to plant cultivation in America.
The Farmer and Planter (detail of cover), March 1858, Vol. 1, No. 3, Image courtesy James E. Kibler, Ballylee Nature Conservancy
Take the Pomaria Heritage Tree Tour!
Please visit our historypin site and take the Pomaria Heritage Tree Tour!
Compiled by James Kibler in December of 2013, these maps provide evidence of William and Adam Summer's work as the South's foremost arborists. Pinpoints around the capital city Columbia, and the state of South Carolina show the location of trees that were sold by Pomaria Nursery and survive to this day (or specimens quite similar). By tracking this tree heritage, these maps suggest how the Summer family contributed to the verdant splendor of the southeastern United States.
Henry William Ravenel!
Also please visit the A.C. Moore Herbarium's website for more information about the forthcoming symposium:
Plants and Planter: Henry William Ravenel and the Convergence of Science and Agriculture in the 19th-Century South
Adam Geiselhardt Summer (1818-1866)
Presentation given by Dr. David Shields
McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina
June 18, 2014
A lawyer by training, a wit with tongue or pen, a some-time state legislator from Saxe Gotha, an editor, and the most adventurous planter and herdsman in South Carolina from 1847 to 1857, Col. A. G. Summer struck his contemporaries as “ man of unusual mental power—he seemed to absorb knowledge as a sponge takes up water.” At his plantation Ravenscroft in a bend of the Congaree River north of Tom’s branch in Lexington County, Col. Summer revolutionized livestock husbandry in the south, bringing the region into the orbit of 19th-century cattle, breeding, transforming feeding regimens for the health and growth of cows, pigs, sheep, and goats, and pioneering the penning and stabling of livestock to incorporate their manure into the fertility enhancement regime of plantations.
Like his brothers William and Thomas, A. G. Summer was an experimentalist. Like many of the most active agriculturalists of his generation, Adam was a man of letters. The world of agricultural letters came into being in Baltimore in 1819 with the launch of the journal, American Farmer. This literature exploded into cultural importance as hundreds, later thousands of literate farmers and planters sought relief from their soil’s declining fertility . In the pages of the multitude of periodicals, contributors explored crop rotation, manuring, intercropping, introducing new varieties into cultivation, horizontal plowing, and winter cover cropping. Journals tended to be regional in the first era of agricultural letters, often sponsored by a local association of farmers. Col. A. G. Summers was a driving force in the operation of the Newberry Agricultural Society (founded 1839). In February 1845 he became editor of the tabloid periodical the South Carolinian, and devoted much column space to agricultural matters, including pieces of his own composition. Perhaps the most consequential item he published in the journal was his brother William’s article “The Culture of the Sweet Potato,” originally written for Jesse Buel’s Albany Cultivator in 1845. In 1853 Adam founded the Southern Agriculturist, in Laurens, SC. It quickly became the foremost journal of horticultural and agricultural reportage in the state. He was a driving force along with his brother William in the consolidation of the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina in 1855—a revival of an early entity of that name—and the organization of the State Agricultural Fair, the largest and most influential exhibition in the state, eclipsing the Mechanic’s Institute exhibitions in Charleston by a substantial degree. He served as one of the managers of the fair for three years, before moving to Florida in 1857.
Summer once observed, “The plantation is at one and the same time a laboratory and a workshop.” It was a place of the creation of knowledge and its application. It depended upon certain academic disciplines, particularly chemistry; and Adam’s brother, Thomas Summer received academic training in the subject in Germany from Justus Leibig, the father of soil chemistry. From Thomas Adam grasped the chemical principles governing plant nutrition, particularly the importance of nitrogen. He also learned that nutrition could be cycled through all levels of the organic world on a plantation. Consequently, he, like Jesse Buel, editor of The Cultivator in New York, conceived of the farm as a diversified and integrated entity. He planted sweet potatoes to serve as winter feed for livestock, used livestock manure to enhance soil fertility, planted Abruzzi rye as a winter cover and green manure, diversified his field crops so he was not, like his neighbors, financially dependent upon cotton profits in the commodity markets. A visitor “would see, even in the winter, fields green with grass, winter oats, barley, wheat and turnips (ruta baga).” One field of Egyptian winter oats pastured thirty Southdowns sheep who manured the three acres. In March this and other fields were deep plowed with a Remington Steel Plow and fertilized for cotton or corn. . In 1859 S. B. Buckley observed, “This is the first and only instance I have seen of cows and cattle being stabled at the South.” Imitating the dairy-farming regimens of northern experimentalists such as Jesse Buel, the Summer Brothers maintained extensive pasturage, growing red clover and alfalfa for grazing, corn and oats for fodder, and root vegetables (rutabaga, sweet potato, and Jerusalem artichoke) for winter stall feeding. Book farmers of the best sort, plugged into the major horticultural, agricultural, and pomological networks, the brothers jumped on every promising novelty. The experimental introduction of sorghum from France in 1853 had Adam Summer growing 20 acres of ‘sugar millet’ for fodder. He fed cattle both millet and leaves.
William and Adam introduced into South Carolina the fall planting of Bremen Oats, rye, barley, and buckwheat for winter grazing. William Summer thought a September planting of rye requisite for the pasturing of lambs and calves born in February. Because of rye’s tenacious root system, it holds up well to grazing, withstanding being trodden down or pulled. Rye first captured the attention of agriculturists in the 1830s. Jesse Buel may have been the first American to grow it in his experimental farm near Albany. “A Charlestonian” noted in 1840 that it was not grown in the south, but that seeds for both “Italian Rye Grass” and “Baily’s Rye” were readily available from European sources. The Summers were apparently the first to make systematic experiments with it in the early 1840s, growing the Italian Rye Grass and supplying well publicized progress reports to the Newberry Agricultural Society. In contrast to rye, barley did not lend itself to grazing. But because it was a “certain” crop, reliable in cold weather, and because it was nutritious, the Summer brothers grew it, scythed it, and employed it in stall feeding (known then as “soiling”) horses and cattle. Barley only became important in winter feeding with the establishment of livestock stables.
William Summer had convinced Adam to intermix root vegetables with grain and silage when stall feeding animals. Visitors remarked the use of the rutabaga at both Pomaria and Ravenscroft. In the 1840s this Swedish turnip vied with mangel wurtzel, the German Cattle Beet, as the favorite feed root of progressive northern herdsmen. But the Summers waere more fascinated with the benefits of two other roots: the sweet potato and the Jerusalem artichoke. Sweet potatoes because of “the fine effect which they given when fed to milch cows” imparting sweetness and character to milk and butter, became a fixture in the planting scheme. The plant’s immense productivity (“no crop can be planted which will yield more to the acre”) particularly recommended it. Summer grew the Bermuda as an early crop, the white West Indian yam, the yellow yam, and the black Spanish variety. The potatoes were cured, chopped and mixed with silage before being offered to cattle. Unlike many sweet potato growers, Summer did not strip the leaves during the growing period to use as feed. Adam Summer also tried using Jerusalem artichoke for stall feeding, but found that pigs preferred uprooting them in the field. Because the Jerusalem artichoke was perennial, prolific, and grew abundantly in stressed conditions, it was a forage crop singularly suited to waste areas on a property.
Several acres were planted in a peach orchard at Pomaria, last year, and under all the disadvantages of dense shade, drouth, and exhausted soil, they produced quite a fine crop; and its adaptation as food for swin has been fully tested. A number of sows and pigs are now running on this last-mentioned lot, and keep fat on what they glean from the field, which has been partially dug over, without a particle of other food. It is a great promoter of milk in all animals, and fully sustains the opinion . . . concerning its being good food for cows and sheep.
Summer Brothers became famous early in the 1840s for their livestock by importing the best breeding stock available. Adam Summer purchased the award-winning Hereford bull calf “Pomaria” and the heifer “Marie” from the north’s premier breeders, Corning & Lotman, of Albany. His Webb Southdown Sheep came from John Ellman of Glynde, U.K. A visitor in 1856 observed of these, “I have never seen more beautiful Sheep than the pure bred imported Webb South Down.” His flock of Cotswold Sheep (another long wooled breed) came from Sotham, a New York breeder. Col. Wade Hampton of Columbia, SC, bred his Blakewell Sheep, for which he won a premium in the 1846 State Agricultural Convention. For milk, he also secured a herd of Devon Cows from Lewis G. Morris of New York. From the same breeder he obtained a number of extraordinary Black Essex Pigs. For a decade he may have been the only breeder of Berkshire Hogs in the South Carolina. And he loved the Suffolk breed so much, he wrote a prose poem in their praise in the pages of the Southern Agriculturist. Only Adam, Col. J. D. Davis, and Richard Peters of Atlanta bred them pure in the south during 1850s. He loved the taste of their flesh, particularly after they had fed on fallen fruit in the plantation orchards. Col. Summer’s superiority as a breeder was regionally acknowledged. In 1854 a visitor to the Newberry Agricultural Society exhibition, “Of hogs, Col. Summer, as usual, carried off the chief prizes, to which he is entitled, as he has introduced and improved this species of domestic animals to great perfection. The hogs presented by him were Suffolks, of beautiful symmetry and proportions.”
While cows, sheep, and pigs dominated Summer’s breeding efforts, he raised and bred other creatures: Black Java ducks (showed at the 1855 NAS exhibition), exotic chickens, rabbits, guinea fowl, and geese.
Adam gained a particular following among southern agriculturalists in the 1850s for his energetic efforts to get beyond cotton planting as cash engine of the plantation world. He became particularly fascinated with livestock as sources of income, because (1) dairy farming was a durable more of production with annual payouts (as opposed to meat farming), (2) the wool from Merino Sheep was harvestable repeatedly, and (3) hogs, particularly the Suffolk, being the omnivore without a dilemma, were surprisingly easy to maintain and feed as a meat source.
Adam Summer’s political career deserves some acknowledgment. He was an avid supporter of John C. Calhoun, participated in the 1849 special convention convened by southerners to contemplate political action if the Wilmot Proviso or the liberation of slaves in Washington, D. C. took place. He served his Lexington district as representative to the S.C. State legislature. When U. S. Congressman Preston Brooks died in 1857—the man notorious for caning William Sumner on the floor of the capitol—he ran to replace him. The election of rival Milledge L. Bonham, who was Brooks’s cousin, in winter 1857 contributed to Summer’s decision to remove to Florida later that year.
Other factors contributing to his removal from S.C. included the cheapness of land in Florida (47 to 58 cents an acre), and its better suitability for a great experiment in cattle-raising he envisioned. After a concerted exploration of the sorts of cattle suitable for semi-tropical conditions, he had determined that India’s Brahman breed was the optimum for the breeding project he envisioned. He had examined the old Pineywoods-Caribbean cows that made up the cracker herds in Florida and found them wanting, despite admiring the countryside as range land. He bought a large tract in northern Florida, organized in later 1857 Wetula Plantation, and immediately began importing Brahman’s to breed with Devons and Herefords. The extraordinary heat-tolerance of the Brahmans were their greatest commendation. He had contemplated making trips to Columbia in South American to examine the Andalusian breeds developed there, but abandoned the plane when he encountered the Brahman breed in Driesbach & Company’s Menagerie, touring with Mabie’s United States Circus, in 1853. He was in New York for a stock purchasing expedition when he examined them in the menagerie. Whence he secured his cows and bulls to populate Wetula cannot now be determined, but he was among the most well connected herdsmen in the United States. His work at Wetula established the Brahman breed as a southern standard, and his experiments foddering the cattle on the newly introduced imphee sorghums quashed rumors that the cane was deleterious to cattle. Summer argued that it was among the best feeds for fattening cattle. To this day Florida remains one of the significant locales of Brahman cattle herding in the United States.
His work in Florida was interrupted by service as an officer in the Confederate Army tasked with provisioning forces with Florida resources. He did not long survive the armistice, dying from asthmatic asphyxiation en route to Columbia on a train to meet his wife in 1866.
 “Adam Geiselhardt Summer,” History of the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina (Columbia: R. L. Bryan, under the directional of the State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina, 1916), 233.
 “Training Agriculturalists,” Southern Cultivator 15, 12 (December 1857), 367.
 S. B. Buckley, “Visit to a South Carolina Plantation,” The Cultivator 7, 5 (May 1859) p. 146.
 “Statement of A. G. Summer,” Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1857 Agriculture (Washington, D. C. James B. Steedman, 1858), p. 220.
 “Cultivation of Spring Grain at the South,” The Cultivator 1, 12 (Dec. 1844), p. 390.
 “I doubt whether the Italian rye grass has ever been seen in the southern states and scarcely in America, although I have a faint recollection of seeing a few plants, some years ago, on the farm of Judge Buel, nearly Albany in New York.” “Notes on European Agriculture: The Grasses,” The Farmer’s Register 8 (1840), pp. 361-63.
 William Summer, “The Culture of the Sweet Potatoe,” The Cultivator 2, 2 (Feb. 1845), pp. 65-67.
 “Jerusalem Artichoke,” The Monthly Journal of Agriculture 1, 11 (May 1846), p. 537.
 “Newberry Agricultural Society,” Charleston News and Courier 54, 17896 (July 21, 1851), 1.
 “Hereford Cattle, Cotswold and South Down Sheep,” Massachusetts Ploughman and New England Journal of Agriculture 4, 12 (Dec. 21, 1844), p. 1. For A. G. Summer’s assessment of the breed, see “Hereford Cattle,” The Southern Cultivator 4, 11 (November 1844), p. 171. “Stock for the South,” The American Agriculturist 4, 12 (December 1845), p. 382.
 “North Devons—the Proper Cattle for the South,” Southern Cultivator 16, 4 (April 1858), p. 117. “The Great Cattle Sale of Lewis G. Morris,” The American Farmer (August 1, 1856), p. 59.
 “The December 1854 Agricultural Fair,” The Southern Cultivator 13, 1 (January 1855), p. 25. “Proceedings of the Newberry Agricultural Society,” Charleston News & Courier 52, 17147 (September 28, 1858), 2.
 “Suffolk Pig—Again,” Southern Agriculturist (March 1853), p. 80.
 “Newberry Agricultural Society, Charleston Courier 52, 16786 (July 26 1854), 2.