Comstock, Ferré & Co.—A Brief History
his year we are celebrating 200 years of selling seeds. We invite you to join us June 3, 2011, for our anniversary! Also, visit us online to follow the restoration of this historic company at: www.ComstockFerre.com.
Comstock, Ferré & Co., located in Wethersfield, Connecticut, has a colorful agricultural history, and despite being in the cross-hairs for demolition, it has risen again as a vibrant seed house offering heirloom varieties to New England and to all of North America. It began as Wethersfield Seed Gardens with an advertisement for Joseph Belden’s seeds published in the Hartford Courant in 1811. This is the earliest known record of a seed business in Wethersfield.
The Birth of Comstock, Ferré & Co.—In 1834, a fire burned Belden’s barns and seed houses, but the business survived. In 1838, he sold it to Judge Franklin Comstock and his son William. Many young men in Wethersfield, known as “travelers,” hitched up their wagons loaded with Comstock’s seed boxes and traveled various routes throughout New England and as far west as the Mississippi River delivering our seed boxes to country stores, collecting money that was due on last year’s box and returning the old boxes to Wethersfield. In 1845, William Comstock took on Henry Ferré from Massachusetts as his partner, and their business flourished. It was incorporated in 1853 under the name of Comstock, Ferré & Co.
The Willard Family—In 1871, Comstock retired from the business. In that same year, Stephen F. Willard began working for the company as a “traveler.” He also served as president of Comstock from 1898 until his death in 1924. Four of Stephen’s sons followed in their father’s footsteps and were involved in the various aspects of the business. One son, Richard G. Willard, served until 1980, at which time his wife Corrinne became president. She was our radio personality for 12 years on a weekly program called “Gardentime.”
Pierre Bennerup, Proprietor—In August, 1991, Pierre Bennerup, owner of Sunny Border Nurseries, Inc. purchased Comstock, Ferré & Co. Pierre has a family history in the world of gardening that started with his father in 1929. Wanting to return his focus to his original family business, he decided to list Comstock, Ferré & Co. for sale in 2008.
The Gettle Family—Pierre and his wife, Cheryl, contacted Jere and Emilee Gettle, owners of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., because they saw a parallel between Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. and Comstock’s colorful past. The Bennerups expressed a desire to preserve Comstock's historic heritage, in the face of several proposals to do away with this famous landmark in favor of modern development. After negotiating the sale, the Gettles purchased the company in June, 2010—and began another exciting page in Comstock’s eventful history. They brought an Amish crew from Missouri to help begin the restoration process of the historic buildings and barns dating back to the 1700’s. The Amish men carried cobweb- and dust-covered agricultural treasures out of the many attics to once again be on display and eventually be restored to use again. The Gettles felt they had entered a treasure trove of America’s agricultural heritage. It truly was like stepping back in time.
The Future of Comstock, Ferre & Co.—The Gettles are working to return Comstock, Ferré & Co. to its glorious beginnings as an heirloom seed company. Many of the varieties we are listing in this catalog are ones that Joseph and James Belden grew in the gardens around the colonial home where they were born. Also, the restoration of the grounds and eleven historic buildings, one of which was patriot Silas Deane’s warehouse in the 1700’s, is an ongoing process. Our goal is to erase modern influences around the company and return it to something that William Comstock could recognize, if he were to walk through the doors. Comstock, Ferré will be a type of living history museum dedicated to agriculture and our diverse inheritance of heirloom seed varieties that are in danger of extinction, some of which have already passed through the sands of time.