Arkansas State Horticultural Society (ASHS)
The Arkansas State Horticultural Society (ASHS) is a horticultural crop producers’ organization whose primary purpose is to provide its members, through annual meetings, with information to enhance their horticultural enterprises.
The Arkansas State Horticultural Society was formally organized on May 24, 1879, by nineteen men meeting in the council chamber of the city of Little Rock (Pulaski County). The organizers were engaged in horticultural pursuits and were aware of a growing interest in horticultural crops being grown on lands adjacent to the land-grant railroads then expanding through Arkansas. News of the May 24 meeting was published in area papers, extending an invitation for all interested to attend.
The object of the society is “to collect and disseminate information relative to the best varieties of orchard, vineyard and garden products and to dispense same among its members.” The organization held annual meetings. In 1900, another organization also called the Arkansas State Horticultural Society, which formed in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) in 1893, merged with the original ASHS. Following this union, the greater society became more focused upon western Arkansas. Annual meetings continued at various locations in west and northwest Arkansas, featuring displays and information on fruits, plants, vegetables, flowers, nursery stock, evergreens, and implements. By 1920, however, meetings began to relate almost exclusively to apple growers’ problems, principally the coddling moth (Cydia poponella), to the extent that the society was facetiously called the “Coddling Moth Society.”
The ASHS has made numerous significant contributions to Arkansas and its horticultural industry. In 1880, the ASHS supplied the idea, initiative, and leadership in the formation of the Mississippi Valley Horticultural Society (later the American Horticultural Society), a union of societies from four other states, and participated in its massive display of fruits at the Merchants Exchange in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1885, without any state funding, the ASHS sent an exhibit of Arkansas resources to the Great Southern Exhibition held in Louisville, Kentucky, where it won several awards. The ASHS held its 1886 meeting in the House of Representatives at the Arkansas State Capitol. The three-day event featured exhibits of fruits and flowers as well as oratory, organ music, and a chorus from the Arkansas School for the Blind. The following year, ASHS had a leadership role in the Great Exhibition of Arkansas Resources held at Glenwood Park in Little Rock. The society’s hundredth anniversary meeting, held in Fort Smith, featured a street parade and a banquet with buffalo steaks on the menu; over 200 attended.
The ASHS has worked to shape the state’s horticultural consciousness. In 1887, the group passed a resolution strongly favoring the establishment of a state fair. Other resolutions in 1889 asked for legislation to protect insects and birds helpful to horticultural crop production, to request the creation of the State Agricultural Bureau, and to give Arkansas Industrial University (now the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville) university status. By the early 1900s, insects and diseases were becoming a problem in horticulture crop production. The society urged for legislation to prevent, by inspection, materials harboring insects and diseases from entering the state. In 1917, the State Plant Board (an offshoot of the proposed State Agricultural Bureau) was formed, and the enabling legislation provided a position on that board for an ASHS member. The ASHS made an appeal in 1928 to revise motor vehicle tax laws considered unjust to farmers.
Although meetings continued during the drought and depression of 1930s and the World War II years, ASHS activity was at a low ebb, with fewer than thirty in attendance in some years. The ASHS was revitalized by the establishment of the Gerber Products Company in Fort Smith, which provided incentive and leadership, primarily because of its interest in obtaining fruit and vegetables produced in Arkansas. Annual meetings in Fort Smith featured trade shows and concurrent sessions for those with specific interest in vegetables, tree fruits, grapes, or small fruit. Attendance rose to several hundred.
The society has provided academic scholarships to students majoring in any field of horticulture since the 1960s.
Much of the record of the society’s activities has been lost. On numerous occasions, the ASHS passed resolutions asking the state legislature to appropriate funds for the publication of its proceedings; all such requests were denied. No proceedings were published prior to 1900, from 1913 to 1925, and from 1930 to 1964. None were published after 1993. When proceedings were published, the cost of printing was absorbed by individual contributions or as part of membership dues.
Due to a decline in membership and financial difficulties in maintaining its service to members, the ASHS voted, in 1998, to discontinue its own annual meetings and merge with Oklahoma horticultural groups under the umbrella of a “Horticultural Industries Show,” with meetings alternating between sites in northwest Arkansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma. These joint meetings broaden the horticultural base of interests and incorporate sessions on sustainable and organic production of all horticultural crops. The ASHS still maintains its identity, but its activity is minimal.
The object of the ASHS has changed little during its history, although the methodology of disseminating knowledge has changed tremendously, as has the knowledge base itself. The ASHS has adapted to these changes, yet it remains a viable voice for the Arkansas’s horticultural producers.
For additional information:
Arkansas State Horticultural Society Proceedings. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Rothrock, Thomas. “The Arkansas State Horticultural Society.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 34 (Autumn 1975): 242–267.
Roy Curt Rom
University of Arkansas at Fayetteville
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