It’s been said that hope springs eternal.
It can also be said that history springs eternal, especially when history blooms each spring and summer at Krider Garden.
While all the gardens and parks are important places that add richer experiences to Middlebury living, this park in particular is unique both in present-day form and because of its past.
People both from the Middlebury area and from far away visit Krider Garden for its current-day beauty.
Grown-ups sit on wrought iron and sunburst benches or swing on the porch-style swing. Passers-by marvel at the quilt garden mural; children play hide-and seek under the ten-foot toadstools or tall, blue windmill. Teens ride their bikes on the adjoining trail.
“This is a really unique place,” shared a couple last summer, who traveled from Wisconsin to view the Quilt Gardens Along the Heritage Trail, of which Krider Garden is a part. “The windmill is really neat.” Pointing to the plaque near the entrance of the park, they added, “We didn’t know there was so much history connected to it.”
Neither did many current-day Middlebury Community Schools students until recently. As part of its curriculum, students study and visit each of the “Seven Wonders of Middlebury,” with Krider Garden being one of those stops. Several students can be seen sticking fingers in the pond or on the water wheel. Other students are surprised to find out the homes they currently live in sit on the property of what used to be part of the 500-acre Krider Nurseries, Inc.
Simply put, Krider Garden, with its statues and flowers and water and benches, is a lovely place to be. It’s also a place to learn about the history of Middlebury.
…Mixed With The Past…
While some folks are making new memories, others are either discovering or remembering the history connected to this nursery-turned-park.
Take, for example, Facebook friends who recently posted comments, recalling special moments from their past:
Ann Krider Cooksey, great-granddaughter of Vernon, posted: “I used to go into the nursery office across the street and get a handful of peanuts from the machine and cross the street into the garden. I’d eat a couple of peanuts and pretend to shrink and then I’d be Alice in Wonderland by the toadstools…. It was the place where the imagination of an eight-year-old girl ran wild.”
Mark Roebuck recalls his mother’s stories. Mary Anne maintained the garden when she worked at Krider Nurseries in the 1970s and 80s. He writes, “She just recently gave our son Tyler her old Barlow knife that she used there.”
Krider has a long and luxurious history, beginning in 1896 when Mr. Vernon H. Krider purchased 30 acres, and then over the years, added significantly to the land known as Krider Nurseries, Inc. At one time, Krider Nurseries was the largest industry in Middlebury, employing around 100 people
Then in 1934, it was announced that Chicago would host the World’s Fair from May to October, and the theme would be called, “Century of Progress.”
Seeing the fair as an opportunity to expand his catalog business, Vernon, along with locals Aloysius John Vocke and Levi N. Miller, created an enormous garden exhibit called “Krider’s Diversified Garden,” representing numerous places and cultures throughout the world. Afterwards, the garden returned to Middlebury, and today stands as a historical monument to the energy and excitement of its town and time.
Some remaining artifacts include:
• The mushrooms, or “toadstools” as Vernon called them, sat at the entrance of the exhibit.
• The windmill stood in the Holland garden.
• The German garden featured the Sunrise Bench.
• The New England garden showcased the Green Iron Bench.
• The Allegheny Garden housed the mill wheel.
The idea that Vernon’s involvement at the World’s Fair helped his business is an understatement; he received over 250,000 names from the fair that helped launch the nurseries’ very successful national mail-order business.
Rex Krider, Vernon’s grandson, completed the details by adding that in 1988, the nursery fazed out. For several years, the garden stood in disrepair. In 1995, Middlebury Parks took over the garden and began the restoration process.
Said Rex, “My grandfather had a great vision. I worked in the nursery as a young boy, and now I walk through the garden. I’ll have an occasional lunch there in the summer. I can’t help but bend down and pull a few weeds every now and then; I guess that’s still in my blood.”
…Comes Full Circle
Back to today, Krider Garden is now maintained by the Middlebury Parks Department and its volunteer partner, Friends of the Middlebury Parks. The town and community work hard to maintain the beauty and history by planting flowers and picking up debris. Last fall, Friends of Middlebury Parks purchased and installed HEBE, a seven-foot replica statue representative of the original from the World’s Fair Garden. Hebe, holding her pitcher, is the goddess of youth and forgiveness.
While many community members take an active role in the beautification process, some people simply delight in the beauty and history. One of those people is Marla Krider, married to Greg, Vernon’s great-grandson.
“The words that come to my mind [about Krider Garden] are ‘connected’ and ‘enduring.’ This place was a vital part of our community for several decades. Now, it’s a testimony to mother nature, to beauty, to simplicity, to hard work….
“I’m so glad the Parks Department has maintained the garden with respect for its history.”
Special thanks to Marla Krider, Richard Smith, and Rex Krider for sharing the history of Krider Garden.
Friends of Middlebury Parks is holding a Volunteer Day on Saturday, May 5, 9am-11am at Krider Garden. Check www.inMiddlebury.com, inMiddlebury Facebook page, and www.middleburyin.org for ongoing updated information.
To see a video of Middlebury Community Historical Society Museum’s director, Richard Smith, talking about a special visitor to Krider Garden, click here.
To see a video of Rex recalling a childhood memory from working at Krider Nursery, click here. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pPLYBVu8Tk[/youtube]
To see a video of Vernon’s Grandson, Rex, remembering when the 1934 World’s Fair display was built, click here.[youtube]http://youtu.be/dyPev2bFIeQ[/youtube]
To see a slide show of Krider Garden then and now, click here.[youtube]http://youtu.be/fzhzlEK4No4[/youtube]