Charles W. Gurney, moved west to Iowa
from his family's home in Massachusetts in about 1852. At the
age of 23 years he enlisted in the 3rd Iowa Veteran Infantry,
Company C for service in the Civil War. He was appointed to
Quartermaster Sergeant on July 8, 1864 and promoted to Captain of
Company C on September 8 of the same year.(1)
According to some sources, he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel
He returned home
and opened his first seedhouse in 1866. He operated
Hesperian Nurseries in Monticello, Iowa, for several years before
moving his business to Dixon County, Nebraska, in 1882. Recognizing the trade potential in a
thriving river town, C. W. moved his headquarters to Yankton, South
Dakota, in 1897.
In 1906, C. W. Gurney, his seven
sons, and a nephew incorporated as Gurney Seed and Nursery Company.
Price lists of the early days were gradually expanded until in
1910, Gurney published a large seed and nursery catalog with a
Following C. W.'s death in 1913,
his sons and nephew continued to run the seedhouse. In 1919,
Deloss Butler Gurney, one of the Colonel sons, offered Gurney stock for sale
to their customers, listing inventory worth $300,000, possession of
403 thoroughbred Duroc hogs, and 36% average earnings as sale
With D. B. as CEO, the company
diversified and grew rapidly. By 1924, the family-run
seedhouse in Yankton had received orders from 46 of the 48 states,
as well as five foreign countries.
Radio was just getting its start in
Yankton in 1925, when John Chandler "Chan" Gurney(6), D. B.'s son,
began making a reputation for himself as a talented announcer and
programmer for station
D. B. began to
notice the successful efforts of one of his major competitors, Field's Seed
and Nursery Company of Shenandoah, Iowa who owned radio station
sent to Shenandoah
to look over the
KFNF set-up, and upon his return home, he recommend that
his father purchase
WNAX located in Yankton. Thus, on February
28, 1926 (Note: one news article has the year as 1927), listeners heard: "This is station
WNAX , Voice of the House
of Gurney in Yankton."
Although no longer owned by Gurney
WNAX is a premier station and still located in Yankton.
You can read more about
WNAX by clicking here.
By the early 1930's, the Gurney
seedhouse building was one of the Yankton area's first shopping centers,
housing hairdressers and barbers, dry goods, groceries, jewelry, and
medicine. Everything was available from Gurney and all was
WNAX. Product quality and helpful service did the
rest, and soon Gurney became a household name.
Having been family-owned for
decades, Gurney Seed and Nursery was sold in 1942. One of the part
owners was long-time executive,
John Whitley Nicolson. The details
are yet unclear, but ownership eventually passed to a Mr. John Hesse.
Hesse sold the company to
Amfac, Inc. in 1980. After
Amfac, Inc. purchased
Henry Field's in 1981,
Gurney's and Field's eventually became the
Amfac, Inc. Mail-Order
Division. In June 1984, an eight-member investor group, including
four Gurney executives, purchased the division from
By then the company was shipping
millions of plants of hundreds of varieties. By the mid-1980s,
Gurney's held a staff of some 700 employees and was responsible for
creating more than 17 million annual catalogs with more than 4,000
In 1991, Gurney's was purchased by
private direct marketing firm own by
Don Krumel. The business was
then sold to
Foster & Gallagher, Inc., of Illinois in 1999.
Foster & Gallagher, Inc.
purchased a lot of the old, well established company names - Breck's Bulbs,
Henry Field's, Michigan Bulb
Company, New Holland Bulbs, Spring Hill Nursery, Stark Brothers, Garden
Solutions (an online storefront featuring Brecks, Spring Hill, Henry
Field, Gurneys, and Stark Bros).
closed up Gurney's and left Yankton in May of 2000, severing a 118
year tradition and deep connection with the town.
In July of 2001,
Foster & Gallagher, Inc. filed for bankruptcy.
On October 26, 2001, a new
company, Scarlet Tanager Holdings, LLC,
owned by Niles Kinerk, located in Greendale, Indiana, emerged as the owner of the
registered trade name of Henry Fields (as well as the other
Foster & Gallagher, Inc.
the Fall of 2006, the old Gurney building complex as seen in the old
picture above, is being converted into condominiums and retail
space. Here are a few pictures from a recent trip to the area.
A far cry from the once great economic anchor in Yankton.
3rd Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry
Foster & Gallagher Acquires Two, Sells Two - July 8, 1999
Hits The Air In '22", Sam Herley, Yankton Press & Dakotan,
September 14, 1999
& Gallagher Bankruptcy Filed in Delaware Court
Chandler (Chan) Gurney was a Senator from South Dakota; born
in Yankton, SD, May 21, 1896; attended the public schools; during
the First World War served as a sergeant in Company A, Thirty-Fourth
Engineers, United States Army, with service overseas 1918-1919;
engaged in the seed and nursery business 1914-1926; operator of
1926-1932; moved to Sioux Falls, SD, and engaged in the wholesale
gasoline and oil business 1932-1936; unsuccessful candidate for
election to the United States Senate in 1936; elected as a
Republican in 1938 to the United States Senate; reelected in 1944
and served from January 3, 1939, to January 3, 1951; unsuccessful
candidate for renomination in 1950; chairman, Committee on Armed
Services (Eightieth Congress); appointed a member of the Civil
Aeronautics Board in 1951, became chairman in 1954, reappointed in
1958, and served until 1964; retired to Yankton, SD, where he died,
March 9, 1985; interment in Yankton Cemetery.
to 1990, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of
Gurney Seed and Nursery Corporation. From 1982 to 1984, Chairman
and Executive Vice President of the Horticulture Group of
a publicly owned financial services company. From 1978 to 1982,
Senior Vice President--Public Affairs of