POMARIA — Papers strewn across a barn floor led Maybinton historian and author Dr. James Everett “Jim” Kibler on a 30-year quest to discover the heritage and history of the Pomaria nursery, a renowned nursery focused on breeding plants to withstand the rigors of southern United States climate.
Though breeders and botanists could select hardy stock to withstand the summer heat and humidity, the nursery could not withstand the onslaught of Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops during his March to the Sea.
In a real sense, Kibler sees the nursery as a casualty of the war between the states.
Sherman’s troops burned the nursery to the ground. Summer tried to resurrect the business but Kibler said records show he did not accept payment for plants from his impoverished neighbors.
The nursery closed and with it a chapter of international impact for Pomaria.
Pomaria enthusiasts, historians, botanists, educators and the general public have a chance to reconnect with Southern history Wednesday night, however, at the McKissick Museum’s Taking Root exhibit, the culmination of over 30 years of researching the Pomaria nursery.
At 5:30 p.m. Kibler speaks in the first floor auditorium. He advises people arrive early due to limited seating.
One thing that excites him is the second stage of research the museum exhibit could spawn.
Hopes exhibit expands research
The nursery produced more than 1,500 varieties of apples alone, as well as varieties of repeat-blooming Mosses and Bourbons, Damask Perpetuals, Teas and Noisettes, and some 800 varieties of “New and Select” roses.
Of the plants produced, only about 100 remain in production today.
A map is being made available so people could make a trek around the state and visit areas where apple trees, etc., have been sighted.
Kibler hopes those journeys and the exhibit will inspire people to search on their land and farms for interesting plants and trees which he and other researchers could match with the meticulous ledgers kept by the nursery.
Though much data was lost, he has the 1859-60 ledger and said its detail is such that it can be used as a field guide.
Newberry County is one of 29 sites on the map, thanks to its Magnolias Gran De Fleur.
The exhibit occupies the entire second floor of McKissick Museum and has two other co-curators, Kajal Ghoshroy, curator of Natural Science and Edward Puchner, curator of Exhibitions.
Kibler’s colleague David Shields with the English Department at the University of South Carolina is an expert on local foods and grains and will give a talk about seed development and experiments with breeds and livestock.
William and Adam Summer were the original proprietors of the nursery, which he said was built by a combination of white, slave, freed black and Irish immigrant labor as well as help from neighbors in the community such as Chapmans, Addys, and Summers.
William Summer returned from war and tried to run the nursery until his death in 1878.
Past as prologue
In the nursery, Kibler sees a touchstone and a memory to which the area needs to hold fast.
“Local food is so important now (to education programs, etc.) and in some ways the agriculture we are using now (may well be things we are) reinventing,” he said. “I hope people will come out, get a map and follow their heritage around the state looking at (flora and fauna that once thrived there).”
Kibler found a map of Bolivia on the floor of a barn on the premises, a map he learned through letters housed at the University of Notre Dame library that was used by Adam Summer to plan a voyage to Brazil/Bolivia border to bring back cattle that could thrive in warm climate instead of the cold weather cattle domesticated in the South.
“I was walking on a map of this man’s dreams and did not know it … but the fabric has been torn and we lost local culture because it was burned out, a casualty of invasion and of war. (A society) loses documents, financial resources, the ability to send people for university education, and after 150 years you don’t even know what you were,” he said.
According to documents and research, he’s proven, he said, that the nursery was the South’s largest and most influential for its era and was as good as any nursery in the country.
How Pomaria got its name
“This exhibit is part of the big picture because there is a wholesale lack of knowledge about (the area and its history), hence a tall tale about a cow being hit by a train is how many think Pomaria got its name.”
According to Kibler’s research, the name “Pomaria” comes from the Latin “pomum,” meaning “fruit,” and “Pomona,” the Roman goddess of the orchard.
The depot eventually took over the old Pomaria Plantation, and the depot became the calling card for the rural area once its nursery closed.
For Kibler, a native of the area who grew up in Prosperity, the museum exhibit fulfills part of his life’s work.
Kibler studied English Literature and became a professor at the University of Georgia. When home on break from UGA and teaching, he poured over letters and documents and talked to Pomaria landowners. Now this portion of his life’s work has come to fruition in the museum exhibit.
For more information about the exhibit and the guided tour on Wednesday, see
Botanists, historians and Pomaria enthusiasts also may read a PDF of Kibler’s 1993 article on the Pomaria nursery at http://www.southerngardenhistory.org/PDF/1993%20v%2010.pdf.
Unguided exhibit tours will be available until Sept. 20.