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Vaughan’s… From Grass Seed to Catalog Sales

In 1876, John Vaughan opened a small Chicago seed store. Twenty-one years later, he expanded to Western Springs, where he built what became one of the nation’s largest wholesalers and retailers of horticultural items.

Having achieved considerable success selling seed and horticultural supplies through catalog sales, Vaughan opened five greenhouses in Western Springs in 1897.

These were located on property that is now home to the Service Club’s swimming pool. Initially covering 7,600 square feet, the greenhouses were expanded to 35,000 square feet, plus separate buildings for packing and storage. Their proximity to the Burlington railroad allowed for easy shipping nationwide.

As one of the village’s major employers, Vaughan’s took pride in not only maintaining the appearance of its own grounds (second photo), but also the property around the village’s train station. Note the flower beds and plantings in the third photo.

Vaughan’s success was reflected in the large number of blue ribbons it won at the nation’s major horticultural and floral shows. The company even played a major role in providing plantings for the Chicago World’s Fair. 

While the greenhouses occupied nearly eight acres, the adjacent land was prone to flooding. In fact, the resulting “lakes” provided great rafting in the summer (see fourth photo), as well as ice skating in the winter.

Recognizing the need for more space to grow nursery stock, Vaughan’s purchased large tracts of land southwest of 47th and Willow Springs Road.  See fifth photo.

The company also opened a popular retail store on the southwest corner of 47th street and Willow Springs Road. See sixth photo.

After World War II, Vaughan’s focused its energies on commercial sales and closed most of its farms. It also closed down its antiquated greenhouses at Prospect & Reid, while opening more modern facilities in Michigan.     

Finally, as the demand for more local housing increased, Vaughan’s sold its land holdings south of 47th Street. These would eventually become home to the Garden Market Shopping Center and the Lyons Township South Campus. But, they still retained the corner property, where they built a more modern retail store, complete with a gift shop and retail greenhouse. See seventh photo.

For local residents, Vaughan’s was always a place where they could find the best in annuals, potted plants, yard decorations, and Christmas trees. Just look at those 1961 prices in the eighth photo!

In the 1960’s, the company relocated its headquarters to Downers Grove. And, in 1972 it acquired the Jacklin Seed Company. While the resulting company continued to operate for quite some time, in more recent years it went through a dizzying series of name changes, acquisitions, spin-offs and mergers. 

As for the retail business, local resident Scott Grosse acquired the retail store in 1992 and operated it very successfully for more than a decade. However, as Walgreen’s began seeking a new corner location and with his lease within several years of expiring, Scott felt he had no choice but to relocate. Unfortunately, while his new building at 47th and Commonwealth was spectacular, the combination of a declining economy, competition from “big box” stores, and the change in location were too much. So, in 2009, the last vestige of Vaughan’s closed its doors. 

Do you have a favorite memory of Vaughan’s?  If so, please post a comment!

Noel Zethmayr October 06, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Oh, I LOVED Vaughan's! In the mid-'70s, when I was little, my grandma, Ruth Zethmayr, used to take me along on her (it seemed to me) weekly trips up the street to Vaughan's in the Garden Market, where she shopped for plants while I stood mesmerized in front of the rotating case in the gift shop, which was full of tiny, tiny ceramic animals. Back then, the greenhouse still worked, and was full of cacti -- which I wasn't allowed to pet, although I desperately wanted to (some looked soft! They really did!) -- and there was an utterly fascinating copper water feature on the huge rear wall, made of overlapping cups that would fill with water and then tip into the lower cups, over and over. I loved the smell of everything -- the plants, the soil, the water, even the seeds. My inner 5-year-old misses Vaughan's (and my gramma!) still.

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