Frank T. Ramsey was 16 years old, he quit going to school and
became a partner in his father’s nursery business in Burnet
County near the community of Mahomet.
His father, Alexander M. Ramsey, wrote down a list of fruit tree varieties
that he had for sale and put his son and business partner on a horse.
Frank traveled all over Texas, taking
orders for trees and collecting native flora along the way.
The seeds of Ramsey Nursery, one of the first in the state
of any consequence, had been planted before A.M. Ramsey and his family
ever set foot in Texas. A.M. Ramsey was
living in Mississippi in 1858 when he shipped some peach seeds to
his brother-in law in Burnet
County and asked him to plant them. A.M. Ramsey arrived in 1860,
just as those first trees were beginning to bear fruit.
Four of those original trees became stock for the first nursery which
was described in its early days as “one of the pioneer undertakings
in the growing of orchard fruit in Western Texas.” The growing of
orchard fruit in pioneer times often had to be abandoned for service
against the Comanches which, combined with conditions following the
Civil War and the vagaries of weather, made it hard to earn a living
but A.M. Ramsey persevered; the Ramseys had 5,000 trees for sale when
young Frank set out on horseback to take orders.
Ramsey took over the business in 1895 when his father died. A year
before he and his father had moved the business to the outskirts of
Austin for the better transportation
facilities and schools for the growing Ramsey family. People used
the first two initials of Frank’s name to dub him “Fruit Tree”
Ramsey. The thriving peach, fruit and vineyard operations in today’s
Hill Country owe
a lot to his perceptions and the perseverance of generations of Ramseys.
Ten years after Frank took over the business, the nursery was growing
and selling a million trees a year, mostly peach, plum and apricot
varieties. As the city grew, Ramsey began selling more ornamentals.
Owing to the fact that he had used those long trips on horseback when
he was a teenager to gather as much native flora as he could find,
the nursery specialized in native plants. He sold red yucca, morning
glories, native persimmons and others. A 1929 article in “Farm and
Ranch” magazine read in part: “To Frank Ramsey perhaps more than to
any other one man must go credit for the introduction of the greatest
number of native plants to cultivation.”
as importantly, Ramsey came up with many domestic fruit varieties
of nectarines, peaches, berries, apricots, seedless persimmons and
a fig called the Ramsey fig. He bred shrubs and was one of the first
to grow the Chinese jujube tree in the area. Ramsey liked tinkering
with machines as much as he liked breeding plants and he had a patent
for a perpetual motion machine. He invented an orchard plow but didn’t
bother with a patent; he included in his catalogs detailed instructions
on how to build one.
He wrote about horticultural topics for both scholarly and popular
publications, and also fancied himself something of a poet. He occasionally
included a poem or two in his catalogues and published a book of poetry
titled “Tis Sweeter Still and Other Poems.” One of his poems is said
to have moved Austin sculptor
Ney to tears. He was a fiddle player, storyteller, and volunteer
fireman and served on the hospital and school boards.
Frank “Fruit Tree” Ramsey died in 1932 and the business survived until
quite recently. Of course, the “outskirts” of Austin
where the Ramsey nursery was located is a lot closer to downtown than
the Austin city limits,
but some reminders still exist. Ramsey Park, part of the land
where the nursery was located, is named for him.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
March 22, 2011 Column