Fremont County, Iowa

Inter-State Nursery
Hamburg, Iowa

Researched by Ruth Lauman

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of December 31, 2012

The Inter-state Nurseries of Hamburg had a long and illustrious history. Those fortunate enough to have driven along the rural roads east of the city will remember the peony blossoms that reached at one time almost as far as the eye could see. The fine soil of the Loess Hills where they were located was perfect for growing this flowering plant. And in those days the town's summer festival was in honor of the lovely flowers. Popcorn days came later.

Founder, Carl L Sjulin was born March 3, 1890, in Shenandoah, Iowa, to Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sjulin. His father worked for a local nursery and Carl started work in the nurseries in Shenandoah at the age of nine for thirty cents a day. (We can only assume that the family needed his income. This also clues us into the fact that children, this young, worked in businesses at the turn of the century.) Here Carl received a liberal education in nursery lore.

Carl's father died when he was only eleven. His small paycheck was no doubt even more needed by the family for he had two younger brothers, Richard and David.

The brothers also worked in the nurseries in Shenandoah after school, on weekends and during vacations, learning the business as they went. They pooled their efforts to complete college educations. In 1918 the two oldest returned to Hamburg (David was still in college) and leased forty acres of ground Here they raised stock for other nurseries and in a few years became a wholesale nursery first known as the Hamburg Nurseries, and later the Inter-state Nurseries. It grew to become the largest direct-to-you nursery in the United States with over 1,000 acres of land.

The two older brothers admitted younger brother David to partnership in 1925. They obtained a strategically located Rose Garden site at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. They set up a magnificent Rose Garden which bloomed just as the fair crowds arrived. It was located near the place where the famous Sally Rand did her exotic dancing and it is said that while the men went to watch Sally thousands of women whiled away the hours at the Inter-State Rose Garden. It brought the Sjulin brothers thousands of names and addresses of new prospective customers from around the country--by the early 1960s they were mailing out more than a million catalogues several times a year.

The first Peony Festival was held in 1936. Sadly, the Peony Festival was discontinued during World War II.

By the mid-1980s the company closed its doors. Traditionally, growers sold their products to garden centers, hardware stores, feed and seed stores, and landscapers. When mass merchandisers (either general merchandise or home centers) replaced garden centers as the dominant type of retailer the changes in the nursery business made it more difficult to continue. Some say not all the brothers continued to be on the best of terms which could have hastened its demise.

However, now in 2013, the tradition continues with grandson Eric and his wife Vickie Sjulin as owners of Swedish Touch Peonies located in Hamburg in the beautiful Loess Hills of southwest Iowa, the same area their grandfather and grand uncles grew these same flowers decades ago.

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Page updated on June 23, 2023 by Karyn Techau