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There was a time when hundreds of workers produced millions of roses per year in Madison.

Wealthy New Yorkers began to spend summer weekends in Madison, bringing with them a desire for fresh flowers. Immigrants from Italy and other countries followed with some helping to build mansions and others growing flowers.

In 1856, estate owners began to sell their roses commercially turning what had been a hobby into a business, according to Cathie Coultas of the Madison Historical Society, whose family was in the rose-growing business.

"My grandfather Joseph Ruzicka had two rose gardens on Shunpike Road and Watchung Avenue near the Chatham border," Coultas said.

Soon growers began to compete with one another, Coultas said, and by 1896, there were 45 to 50 rose growing businesses in Madison, employing more than 200 workers.

In 1917, the U-bow was created, which allowed for more roses to grow in tighter spaces.

"The U-bow allowed my grandfather to fit more than 100,000 plants," Coultas said. "At the Watchung Rose Corp., my grandfather had 12 miles of steampipe on which to grow roses. At 165,000 plants, they were the largest rose grower in the state at one time."

The intricate piping allowed the business to produce three million roses annually, harvesting more than 8,000 roses daily at its peak.

"Twenty-five million roses were sent into New York City from Madison in 1948," Coultas said.

Soon though, as roses began to be flown in from all over the world, businesses began to close. Former Madison Mayor Woody Kerkeslager specifically cited Colombian tax benefits for the influx of international roses.

Coultas' family business closed in 1973, and the last greenhouse shut down in 1986, but the Rose City nickname remained.

The rose-growing legacy remains in town too, as the families of growers started different businesses.

"When the sons of these rose growers went off to war," Kerkeslager said, "They came back and wanted to open their own businesses, not work in the greenhouses. So they stayed in town when the rose business stopped. They were good businesspeople."

To this day, the Madison Garden and Rotary clubs still grow roses and plant them throughout the borough.

"To let people know that we haven't forgotten it," Coultas said.

Staff Writer Michael Izzo: 973-428-6636; mizzo@dailyrecord.com

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