News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 26, 2013

Historical Treasure: Davis Gardens: Once one of the largest greenhouses in world

Chris Weber
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Another rainy spring day kept me out of the garden so I decided to research some gardening history at the Vigo County Historical Museum. While looking into Vigo County’s past, and hoping to come up with ideas for my own backyard plans, I decided to look into the museum’s records on Davis Gardens. I am always surprised to learn that many Vigo County residents are not aware of the importance (or even existence) of Davis Gardens.

Once the home to one of the largest indoor greenhouses in the world, Davis Gardens was located in the northeast corner of the intersection of Davis and Seventh Street, where the Westminster Village retirement community now stands.  Indeed, aerial photos from the museum archives show the size and scope of the complex. The buildings were so massive that the outlines of the eastern greenhouses can still be seen in modern aerial images just to the east of Westminster Village. It is no surprise that Davis Gardens was successful; Terre Haute’s centralized location on the crossroads of federal highways 40 and 41 gave easy access to the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit and more.

Davis Gardens supplied vegetables of all kinds throughout the country; however, they were known for cucumbers, tomatoes, and Bibb lettuce in particular. All three of these are prominently displayed in an early product display photo that also includes a photo backdrop — and all of the photos in that display are part of the museum collection. Cucumbers are ever present in the archival photos, with growing trellises, picking crews, and machines for washing and sorting displayed. In addition, Davis Gardens had indoor fields of Bibb lettuce, seemingly laid out in never ending rows. As the photo states, at the time Davis Gardens was the “Largest Vegetable Producing Greenhouse in the World.” From the photos, it is obvious that the complex lived up to this claim.

This is actually only a small amount of what the photo archive has to offer. To see the rest, stop by the Vigo County Historical Museum and ask for the Davis Gardens file. It is a great way to spend a rainy day when you can’t get into the garden.