June 26, 2016

Jesse Storrs was the visionary who began our Lake County nursery industry in 1854, partnering a few years later with JJ Harrison to form the world-famous Storrs & Harrison Nursery.  His three sons went off to the Civil War.  One died in a Southern prisoner of war camp.  The twins William and Willis returned to join the company in 1865.  A daughter, Harriett, was born to Willis in 1874.  Jesse passed away in 1882, William in 1901 (killed in an accident involving an early tree-digging machine) and JJ Harrison in 1912, but the enterprise continued until 1948.

For most of her life, Harriett lived in the house built by her grandfather on North Ridge Road, adjacent to the glass greenhouse range, across from Fairport Nursery Road.  In 1957 she moved from the house to a retirement home in Willoughby and died in 1960.

Another remarkable story-line began in 1914 with the founding of The Cleveland Foundation by a leader at The Cleveland Trust Co.  The city had long benefited from the philanthropy of mighty industrialists, but this first Community Fund in the country sought to provide direction for this benevolence.  Other major cities followed soon after.  In the years that followed The Cleveland Foundation funded the ‘Emerald Necklace’ Cleveland Metropark System in 1919, the Mentor Marsh conservancy in 1965, Playhouse Square renovations and countless public-service initiatives .

These story-lines come together in 1961 when a donation from the estate of Harriett Storrs led to the formation of the ‘Lake/Geauga Fund’ of The Cleveland Foundation.   Since then the Lake/Geauga Fund has provided over $33 Million to projects in these contiguous counties, including a grant for the local Nursery Survey in 2008.

The house built by Jesse Storrs was removed by a subsequent owner and the soil stripped.  All that remains of the glass greenhouse range is a tall brick chimney, hidden from the road by a hardware store and a ‘Gentleman’s Club’.  And yet the legacy of the man and the enterprise lives on.