Symonds, William Thomas and Anna (Kreuter)
(Mildred I. Kjome)
William Thomas Symonds was bom 4 May 1845 in Eden Bishop, Herfordshire, England, to Mr. & Mrs. W.T Symonds. His father ran a vegetable farm and both father and son were employed as gardeners and florists on a royal estate of Queen Victoria. As a boy William was paid to trudge through the woods and heather to flush game birds for the wealthy nobles who hunted for sport on the estate. William dreamed of America where he heard that men lived on more even terms than in England. He read about available land in the Iowa and Nebraska Farmer and determined to seek his fortunes there.
He worked his way to America on a sailing vessel filled with railroad irons — seven weeks of heavy work and long hours. He spent the first winter in Fort Dodge, IA, then came to Winneshiek Co. in 1869 and worked at a new paper mill in Freeport. He became the gardener at Col. J.W. Taylor’s summer home.
Taylor was one of the wealthy Englishmen which made up the English Colony in Decorah. Taylor had sent to England for 500 evergreens and one of William’s first jobs was to plant those trees. He also took care of the beautiful flower beds and grounds of the estate and had the care of the three elk confined there. Later he worked at the Klein Brewery at Dunning Springs.
About that time he met Anna Kreuter (b. 1852), a German immigrant working at Addicken Brewery. They were married 24 Mar 1876. The couple made a trip to McGregor by train for their honeymoon. Returning to Decorah they purchased a parcel of land on Mound Street and began to plant the first gardens. Mr. Symonds kept adding more acreage until he owned all the land from Ohio Street up to Spring Street and down to the river. In 11 years they had paid for their land and for the first greenhouses they had built.
William drove a springboard wagon around.town supplying the grocery stores with fresh vegetables. Then he would make the rounds of the residential districts. He kept careful records of all he sold. Later he started growing flowers.
Anna bore eight children but only four lived to adulthood: John became a dentist and went to Montana; Sai rah married Charles Gore of California; Henry J, (father of Don Symonds); and W.T (better known as “Duff”) stayed in Decorah. The children worked right along with their parents at the greenhouse and gardens, but their childhood was not all work. They spent a lot of time on the river swimming and fishing and skating in the winter when it froze over. They played at the Travner Mill where Mr. Travner delighted in the children’s company. The boys liked to hunt — they were taught good sportsmanship and how to hunt carefully and safely.
The greenhouses were a main attraction for the community on Sunday afternoons and the Symonds’ were gracious hosts. People were interested in seeing the new plants and what experiments Mr. Symonds might be making in creating new hybrids. Thus the Symonds family became a vital part of the Decorah community both socially and through their business.
The children were brought up with their parents creed for living — the frugality of their mother; the honesty of their father; the insistence of both that “a day's pay was worth a day’s work;” the kindness and compassion of their parents; the pride they had in their business, their town, and their country; the satisfaction of growing things, and the love of laughter through all their days.
About 1897 William became one of the founders of the Winneshiek Co. Agricultural Society, serving in many of the offices through the years. In 1902 William was the first of three generations of Symonds’ to serve as city aldermen: Henry served in 1921-22, Don in 1968-69 and 1970. William was appointed to the Board of Health in 1907.
William died in 1922 and Anna died in 1926. William and Anna Symonds are remembered by the people of Decorah for their kindness and generosity to all. In 1976 Decorah Greenhouses celebrated 100 years of continuous management by the Symonds family, the only Decorah business to have continued 100 years under the management of one family.
Symonds, W.T. “Duff” and Olga (Kjome)
(Mildred I. Kjome)
Duff and Olga Symonds with Gladys and Don Gillies.
W.T “Duff” Symonds was born 18 Sep 1898 to William Thomas and Anna Symonds and grew up at the Decorah Greenhouses. Although he was the third generation in his family to have the initials W.T, he did not share the name William Thomas with his father and grandfather, but was just W.T. His teachers at West Side School had accepted him as such but when he came across town to East Side School the teachers found this a problem and sent him to the principal, Mr. Lynch, who dismissed W.T until he could remember his right name. It was finally settled some days later when Mr. Symonds heard of the matter.
Duff served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, then returned home to attend Valders Business College. He became a partner in Decorah Greenhouses in 1920 and the following year took over the company with his brother Henry. Duff continued his association with the Decorah
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this page was last updated on Monday, 29 March 2021