Frank B. Mills
Rose Hill Seed Company
Fairview Farms
Syracuse, New York

Frank B. Mills, was born in the town of Marcellus, Onondaga county, August 3, 1866, and is a son of George C. and Eliza Mills, who reside on a fine farm at Rose Hill, in the southern part of the town.

His early life was passed on the family's homestead at Rose Hill, where he developed a decided inclination for producing and classifying the seeds of various plants and vegetables, at which he became an expert while yet a mere lad. His spare time from work and school was spent in the garden, where he thoroughly familiarized himself with every plant that chanced to meet his notice.

By the time he had finished his education he had acquired a wide and practical knowledge of almost every seed grown, not only in this country, but in the world, and he at once determined to apply that knowledge to production and distribution. This proved to be the beginning of a business scarcely equaled elsewhere in the State, a business, in fact, that ranks high among the largest concerns of the kind in the country.

He had become the possessor of a small hand printing press capable of printing an ordinary page at each impression, and with this, at the age of less than twenty-one, he began, in 1887, to print his first catalogue. He did all the work alone, from setting the type to mailing the modest book, of which about 3,000 copies were issued and sent out. During that year he secured 118 customers.

From this small commencement the business has steadily and rapidly increased in volume and extent until it now forms one of the largest and most complete establishments of its character in the United States. He has now (1896) over 400,000 customers, whose orders come from every habitable part of the globe - from Canada, South America, and Europe, from Asia, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia - requiring about half a million catalogues annually for distribution.

Mr. Mills has a number of large and convenient buildings and several greenhouses devoted exclusively to the business, and all have been erected within the last four or five years. To these and especially to the greenhouses he is constantly adding; each year is increasing the extent and magnitude of an already mammoth concern.

He has a large seed farm, of which several acres are devoted entirely to testing every variety of seed he sells, and nothing is shipped away until it is thoroughly tried and fully equals every requirement. In this way Mr. Mills has established a name and business which ranks him among the few great seedsmen of the United States. It is doubtful if a concern of equal magnitude has ever sprung into existence in the short time in which his has been prosecuted, and all this is due to the indomitable energy, the systematic methods, and the close personal supervision of the proprietor.

He is the founder of a business of which not only Onondaga county but the State of New York may be well proud. As an auxiliary to his adopted calling, and as a means of disseminating valuable and practical knowledge among the thousands of gardeners and horticulturists throughout the country, Mr. Mills established in December, 1894, and illustrated monthly entitled "Success with the Garden," which has begun what promises to be an auspicious career.

His is strictly mail-order business, and its requirements were such that the government, on November 5, 1890, established Rose Hill post-office with F. B. Mills as postmaster. He resigned this position in 1892, and was succeeded by his brother William E. Mills. [10,11]

His residence, the finest in the town and one of the handsomest in the county, was completed in 1893, and with all his other buildings is pleasantly located on Fairview Farm at Rose Hill in the south part of Marcellus.

Mr. Mills was married, June 16, 1892, to Miss Grace Ackles, daughter of Samuel Ackles, of Spafford. [11]

In August of 1901, the company was incorporated.  In 1907, construction was completed on a new 12,000 square foot brick warehouse /  office building on a railroad spur in Washington, Iowa. [12]  By the time his company peaked in 1908, the F. B. Mills Company was printing and mailing more than 1.5 million catalogs and employing 200 people. [1,3]

Frank passed away on Christmas Day in 1945 at the age of 79 years.  His obituary noted that, "At 79 Mr. Mills has finished his job. He didn't retire as other men would have done, and as he easily could have done. It wasn't so long ago that this editor met him in his office, at the top of the winding stairs in the seedhouse, busy at work. We liked his quiet dignity, his few words, the atmosphere of integrity.

Mr. Mills will be remembered for what he has done. He has brought business to the community of his birth. He has made many friends and he has departed with the fame dignity in which he lived. One of our leading men has died." [8]

He is interned at Lake View Cemetery, Skaneateles, New York, in Section 8, Lot 214. [4]

Even though it had been a leader in the home garden seed industry, like many other companies of the period, World War I, the Depression and finally World War II all took their toll on the business, and in 1953 it shuttered the doors. [1,3]


Sources:

  1. Craftsman with old-country skills returns life to the wood without losing its charm

  2. Post Office Postcards - Rose Hill, NY

  3. The Seedman of Rose Hill

  4. Lake View Cemetery Records - Skaneateles, New York

  5. Spafford, Onondaga County, New York by George Knapp Collins

  6. Around Marcellus by Leslie Church Kraus

  7. Marietta: Home of the Founder of Mills Seed House

  8. MARCELLUS OBSERVER - December 28, 1945

  9. American Florist - August 10, 1901

  10. History of the Town of Marcellus, Dwight H. Bruce (ed.), Onondaga's Centennial, Boston History Co., 1896, Vol. I, pp. 631-658.

  11. Bruce, Dwight H. (Ed.), Onondaga's Centennial. Boston History Co., 1896, Vol. II, Biographical, pp. 31-32.

  12. Giant Piece of Washigton's (Iowa) History Moved


 
Over the course of a week (Feb. 22-27, 2010) the 40' x 100' foot, three story, F. B. Mills Seed Company Building was moved six blocks from a commercial are into downtown Washington, Iowa.  In an effort to save the historic structure, it is being renovated into residential and retail space.

This tribute to great pioneers in horticulture was created and is sponsored by:
The Victory Seed Company

"Preserving the past, one seed at a time"
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