History of the West Virginia Garden Club

On October 8, 1929 a group of interested people met at the YWCA in Charleston to consider forming a state organization of garden clubs. This was a new movement sweeping the country. Perhaps it was a diversion to keep their minds off the depression of 1929. Fourteen groups were represented and six joined to become the Federation of Garden Clubs of West Virginia. Those clubs who joined were the Kanawha, South Hills, Rivermeade, Dunbar, Pt. Pleasant, and the Garden Department of the Woman’s Club of Montgomery. A collection was taken to defray expenses of organizing-a grand total of $10.66 was collected. With six clubs and $10.66 and much foresight the West Virginia Garden Club was born.

In 1932 the Federation of Garden Clubs changed their name to the West Virginia Garden Club. In 1960 a corporate charter was granted by the state and the name became the West Virginia Garden Clubs, Inc. During the first year the federation was accepted into the National Council of State Garden Clubs as the 15th member.

At the first meeting resolutions urged members to plant azaleas and rhododendron until West Virginia became known as the rhodendroden state; that natural beauty spots as Blackwater Falls, Seneca Rocks, and Hawks Nest be preserved by inclusion in a state park system; that the state Forestry Commission develop a forestry nursery to supply reforestation at a low cost; and that the Highway Commission begin a roadside beautification program. The Huntington Garden Club, organized in 1928, was asked to join before the first convention which was held in Charleston. This club hosted the second convention in Huntington at the Frederick Hotel. Two members invited the members to luncheons in their homes. The banquet was held at the Women’s Club of Huntington with the cost being $1 per plate. The cost of the whole convention was less than $200. They held tours to their home gardens and transported the guests in motor cars. Many of the committees were similar to our current ones. They had exhibits of fertilizers, pottery, bowls, and garden magazines.

The convention was open to anyone whether a garden club member or not. At this time the dues were 5 cents per member. The first president, Mrs. Bouchelle, asked the Huntington Garden Club to sponsor publishing a state garden club magazine. The minutes of the club read “We are waiting for a volunteer editor”. Even in those early years the state president was aware of a need for a magazine. In 1928 the Huntington Club had 232 members. Eventually they limited the size to 150 members. When I joined in 1956 there were 135 members.

At the third convention which was held at Oglebay Park in Wheeling an oak tree was planted as a memorial tree. Is this tree still living after almost 75 years?

In 1932 our organization was divided into 7 geographical regions with names related to their historical significance. Later 3 more regions were added and the name changed to Districts.  In 1933 a state garden club seal was designed by William Estler and donated by Mrs. George Patterson, President of the Huntington Garden Club.  It featured the native bittersweet.  This seal was used until 1972 when our present seal was designed by Mrs. David Crickenberger of White Sulphur Springs.  The seal shows the pink rhododendron, the state flower, with mountains in the background.

The first Flower Show School was held in Huntington in 1933 and the second in Fairmont in 1939 with 100 attending.

In 1936 four issues of Garden Trails was published on a trial basis.  This was later discontinued and replaced by a newsletter when needed.  The first issue of the WV Garden News was published in 1941.  This magazine was first sent in bundles to each club to distribute to its members.  Thirteen years later in 1954 the policy was adopted to mail each issue directly to members.

In 1943 a holly project was started under the supervision of the Conservation Commission with members of the WVGC acting as chief sales agents.  The holly was marketed locally as well as being shipped to all parts of the nation.  Clubs have always worked with reforestation programs.  In 1941 one club planted 87,000 trees.

An outdoor advertising law was sponsored by the WVGC and passed by the state legislature in 1938.  Within one year it was reported that 55,000 billboards were removed from WV highways.  During 1935 the first state-wide garden club radio program was broadcast weekly.

Mr. T. Gray, Extension Landscape Architect of WVU, and one of our founders and honorary members, edited a pamphlet “A Garden Study Guide” which contained suggested constitution and by laws for new clubs as well as materials for the year’s programs.  It wasn’t until years later that the first WVGC Handbook was published in 1954.  It was one of the first and other states used it as a model.  Now the Handbook has been revised almost every 10 years.

In 1946 WVGC sponsored a resolution that was passed by the state legislature making WV an official link in the Bluestar Memorial Highway.  Ours was one of the first four states to complete this legislation.

War came in thee dark days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was evident that a food emergency must be met.  WVGC immediately offered to cooperate with the State Department of Agriculture.  In their Victory Gardens WVGC members produced quantities of food, worked in canning centers and sponsored Harvest Shows in order that needed food from commercial growers could be diverted to our troops and starving allies.  President Mrs. Brooks Fleming was asked to serve on a Washington committee to bring the National Food Conservation Program down to a state and local level.  During her administration and with the leadership of the WVGC the state purchased 125 acres of virgin hemlock, now known as Cathedral State Park.  She served as the Southern Atlantic Regional Director when it included 11 state federations from Florida to Virginia.  Later it was divided into our South Atlantic Region and the Deep South Region.  Mrs. Fleming and Professor Hubert Owen were responsible for organizing the first Landscaped Design School at the University of Georgia.

All of our state presidents have been outstanding and each has contributed to the growth of the WVGC.  The third president was Mrs. C. Lloyd Ritter of Huntington.  She was the first of seven state presidents from the Huntington Garden Club.  They were Miss Virginia Cavendish, Mrs. Andrew Kouns, Mrs. Carlton R. Mabley, Jr., Mrs. Clifford Fitzwater,  Mrs. Royce McDonald, now Mrs. James Hollandsworth, and Mrs. James Ashworth. This is probably a record unmatched by any club in the nation.

In 1941 the first awards ever won from national by the WVGC were presented to the Wheeling Garden Center and the Huntington Garden Club for Flower Show Achievement.

In 1948-1950 a move by the WVGC resulted in the adoption by the state legislature of the Sugar Maple as the state tree.

In 1954-56 the first Bird Sanctuaries were created in White Sulphur Springs and Mullens.

(This information came from the 25 year history, minutes of the WVGC, and minutes of the Huntington Garden Club. It was compiled  by WVGC Historian, Marjie Hollandsworth.)