The beautiful Colonial Revival home at 1306 St. Louis Street was built for Jacob Frederick “Fred” Ammann and his wife, Bertha Gehrig Ammann, in 1905. The architect was Frederick Oswald who was from the Ammanns’ hometown of Alhambra, Illinois. Oswald’s Edwardsville office assistant was Michael B. Kane who would later design at least a half dozen St. Louis Street homes. The skill of the architect is evident in the blend of architectural styles that make up the home. Although primarily Colonial Revival, there are also elements of other styles, for example, the Folk Victorian two-story side porch on the west side of the house.
Fred, the son of Swiss immigrant David Ammann and his German-born wife Anna Merz Ammann, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1868. The family moved to Alhambra, Illinois, soon after Fred was born. His father died when he was 14 after which he helped his mother run a flower shop to support the family. In 1888 he established his first greenhouses in Alhambra.
Bertha Caroline Gehrig was one of five children born to Jacob and Sabrina Schultze Gehrig. She grew up on the family farm near Alhambra and married Fred Ammann on October 28, 1890. Shortly after their marriage the Ammann family moved to Edwardsville and purchased several acres on St. Louis Street adjoining the east side of Woodlawn Cemetery. The couple, along with their daughters, Angelina, Edna and Alma, lived in an old house on the property while the business was established.
Throughout the 1890s and early 1900s the newspapers were full of notices indicating that the Ammanns were a welcome addition to Edwardsville’s social scene. Fred was usually referred to as “F. A. Ammann, the popular florist” and they entertained often. In 1905 the newspaper announced that “another handsome residence” was planned for St. Louis Street. The housewarming party was held before the building was completed, but “was far enough along to give a rousing dance.” The Ammanns hosted “about sixty friends and their families” and an orchestra was hired to provide music for dancing.
The new house along with the house next door that they had occupied since 1892 were all heated by steam boilers connected to the greenhouse power plant. The older home, which no longer exists, became the headquarters for the J. F. Ammann Company.
The Intelligencer reported the construction of Ammann’s first Edwardsville greenhouse in 1892, “J. F. Ammann, the proprietor of the Woodlawn Nurseries, has completed a rose house containing 2,000 feet of glass which shelter 1,250 plants for winter flowering.” (Note: The name can be confusing to some residents of Edwardsville. This was not Woodlawn Gardens, established in 1916, that was located across the street from Woodlawn Cemetery. Ammann’s Woodlawn Nursery was on the south side of the street.)
Fred’s business had both retail and wholesale operations with retail outlets in both Edwardsville and Alton. The retail stores were closed in 1917 when the florist changed his focus to wholesale and his interests expanded to include national participation in the florist trade. He was regarded as a pioneer in the industry, serving in leadership positions of local, regional, state and national organizations. Among other offices held, he was the first president of the Illinois State Florists’ Association, and served as president of many national organizations including the American Carnation Society and the Society of American Florists and Ornamental Horticulturalists. In 1932 he was awarded the Gold Medal by the latter organization for outstanding service to the floral industry.
Ammann was one of the men who helped organize Florist Telegraph Delivery (FTD) in 1910 and played a major role in building membership in the organization in the early days by traveling from town to town in his district to recruit florists. The popular “Say it with Flowers” campaign was started during his ten years on the Florists’ National Publicity Committee.
Throughout his more than a half century in the floral business, Ammann’s company entered competitions and won many prizes at the St. Louis Flower Show and at national competitions, especially for their roses. Each year the company raised tens of thousands of roses and carnations, which were shipped primarily to the St. Louis market. His greenhouse operation was known as the largest in the St. Louis region and was one of three greenhouse businesses in Edwardsville.
His status in the industry made him a favorite judge at floral competitions across the country. His leadership role, participation on committees, and service as a judge at flower shows took him away from home, often for weeks at a time.
An additional contribution to the industry came in 1928, when as secretary of the Florists’ Hail Association of America, Ammann convinced the organization to move from New Jersey to Edwardsville. Offices were established in a downtown office building, but soon moved to the second floor of his home at 1306 St. Louis Street where they remained until his death in 1943. In 1955 Florist Hail Association became Florist Mutual Insurance Company and is now known as Hortica, a thriving Madison County business that still serves the florist industry today.
Ammann retired from daily activity in the floral industry in 1941 when he sold J. F. Ammann Company to Ernest Tosovosky of Home Nursery. Home Nursery was located on Route 66 (now Route 157) and eventually phased out the green houses on St. Louis Street which have now been gone for many years.
Locally, Ammann served on committees that supervised construction of the Wildey Theatre and a new school. He served four years as a city alderman, and was an active proponent of the Boy Scouts and the YMCA. He was a devout Christian who ran for mayor on a platform advocating the closure of taverns on Sunday, which probably cost him the election.
Fred Ammann was grateful for and humbled by his business success. In a letter to an old friend in March, 1936, he said, “What a wonderful world of opportunity we live in. Where just poor boys can through some merit of their own, and a lot of encouragement by society, reach the highest pinnacle of their chosen vocation in life.”
Fred died February 16, 1943, after a long illness. Bertha, who ran the household while her husband was on the road building the American floral industry, died in 1950.
The interior of the house at 1306 St. Louis Street saw many changes over the years, as it was divided into apartments and business spaces for Florist Mutual Insurance. Current owners of the house, who purchased it from the estate of George and Mildred Arnold, have uncovered the location of the grand staircase and the footprint of original interior walls and are restoring this beautiful house to more closely resemble its original 1905 design.
Information for this article was obtained from resources on ancestry.com, at the Madison County Archival Library, the Edwardsville Public Library, the Madison County Court House and from descendants of the Ammann family. If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at 656-1294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Caption: The J. F. Ammann home as pictured in a 1937 booklet, Fifty Years of Protection, by the Florist Hail Association of America. In 1937, the Ammanns lived on the first floor and the business occupied rooms on the second floor of the house. (Courtesy of Joan Evers)
This article was first published in May 2014 as part of a series recognizing National Historic Preservation Month.