May/Jun
2017

Mayowood Greenhouse: A Glimpse into its Unique Past

Written by Amy Hahn Photos by Dawn Sanborn Photography
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New construction dominates the narrow stretch of Mayowood Road, but remnants of Mayowood’s idyllic 3,000-acre estate remain, reflected in the rambling span of stone fence, the English style “dragon’s tooth” and other stone structures. Just past the Mayowood Stone Barn, now an event venue, and before the entrance to Mayowood Mansion, is Mayowood Greenhouse Galleries, a property with ties to Dr. Charlie Mayo and Edith Graham Mayo’s grand country estate.

AN ELEGANT BUSINESS

Owned by Rita Hawke Mayo, Mayowood Greenhouse Galleries has a long history of selling European antiques. The shop’s origins trace back to the 60s, when Rita and her husband, Edward “Ned” Martin Mayo, son of Dr. Chuck Mayo and Alice Plank Mayo, renovated Mayowood’s historic greenhouse. 

“The greenhouse wings were remodeled to support the antique business my parents created,” says Lilli Mayo Weivoda. “The building footprint is the same. It’s just enclosed.” 

While working on restoring the historic building, the young couple lived in several locations on the property. “My parents moved into and fashioned a wonderful space into a unique apartment that had a back door in the kitchen leading into the fabulous horse barns,” recalls Weivoda. “This was during the time when my father was managing the Mayowood Farms. I was born while this was their home.” 

In the 70s, the family did a more expansive remodel, turning the greenhouse into a permanent home. A fond childhood memory for Weivoda included a four-legged equine companion. “One of my joys was keeping my pony in the pasture located in front of the greenhouse,” says Weivoda. “I was able to ride my pony to school (Bamber Valley) and tie her to the fence when the weather was nice.”

Even though it became a private residence, the greenhouse’s east wing remained the country location for Mayowood Galleries when the store’s downtown location opened in the subway of the Zumbro Hotel. Later, it moved to the Kahler Hotel lobby, where it resided until 2015.

“In total, my mother had a downtown presence for 50 years. It became an oasis of beautiful art and wonderful conversation for people who came from all over the world seeking care at Mayo Clinic,” says Weivoda. “My mother’s curiosity of all things antique and her genuine desire to share her knowledge created lifelong friends and customers.”

THE HISTORIC GREENHOUSE

The greenhouse was an essential part of the estate’s large farming operation and for decades functioned as a commercial enterprise, producing and selling beautiful flowers as well as replenishing Mayowood’s gardens. It also held a rock garden and a reflecting pool, and at one time an alligator called it home.

The building materials used in the greenhouse made it a resplendent rarity, perhaps the only one of its kind anywhere in the world. It was constructed of discarded x-ray plates found in storage at Mayo Clinic’s 1914 Building. This eye-catching feature showcased ghostly outlines of organs and bones.  

A team of dedicated gardeners continuously cultivated the heralded Mayowood flowers, creating and naming two chrysanthemum varieties: “Sally Mayo” and “Little Fred.”

ANNUAL FLOWER SHOWS

The abundant array of flowers, especially the vibrant mums, garnered vast public interest and in 1922 the first Mayowood Chrysanthemum Show was held. That inaugural show launched an annual fall flower show that became a popular event throughout the 20s and 30s, eventually rising to fame as one of the largest and most coveted in the country.

At its peak, over 60,000 chrysanthemums were displayed, highlighting 164 varieties. There were other types of flowers on exhibit as well, such as begonias and snapdragons. It was one of Rochester’s premiere events.

“It was special because of the wonderful working greenhouses themselves (of which there were more than one),” says Weivoda. “They were full of beautiful blooms on a magical estate.” 

And indeed, it must have been quite enchanting because 14,000 people flocked to enjoy the weeklong event in 1923.

Amy Hahn has a master’s degree in mass communication from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School. She recently completed a certificate in historic preservation and discovered she has an ancestor recognized by the DAR for patriotic service during the Revolutionary War. 

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