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Pansy Park put Dwight on the map in the late 1800s

The wholesale price list for "Goodell's pansy seeds and other seasonable specialties."
Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection
Creative commons
The wholesale price list for "Goodell's pansy seeds and other seasonable specialties."

A recent New Yorker article documenting America’s mail-order seed catalog tradition failed to mention "Goodell's Seeds," a publication that created a stir in western Massachusetts and beyond in its day.

I think its creator deserves attention.

Lafayette Washington Goodell was likely named for the celebrated Frenchman who passed near his birthplace in the village known as Dwight, in north Belchertown.

He was 17 when he invested $25 in a seed business on his father’s rundown farm. He hired his older brother, constructed ponds and greenhouses, and — in two decades — had 50,000 customers.

With its own stop on the Boston & Maine Railroad, hundreds came to tour his renowned aquatic and flower gardens, known as Pansy Park.

Deemed a popular destination in the 1890 guide, "Carriage Driving in Western Massachusetts," there were asters, pinks, petunias. Cherries, plums, peaches. And, of course, the pansy.

Mustachioed and dapper, LW had no formal degree. Yet Harvard collected his specimens. An intrepid experimenter with cross-breeding, he didn’t concern himself with profit.

Orders — some 500 a day — arrived from Europe, the Indies, Japan and New Zealand, including from local gardeners Emily Dickinson and her sister.

He showed the world that the Zanzibar lily — cultivated by the wealthy — could be grown from common seed. And he was the first to raise the world’s largest waterlily without artificial heat: the rare Amazonian Victoria Regia,

The Springfield Republican announced in 1889, “World’s fair at Dwight!” with “the pick of this continent and the pride of others—Mexican fire-plant, Nebraskan snow-on-the-mountain … Emperor William’s blue corn-flower and the Egyptian lotus.”

Since LW’s death, Pansy Park has been dance club, hotel, restaurant. Built in 1833, the house nearly burned to the ground four times.

Look for the Blubby’s sign as you head out of Belchertown toward Amherst, just after the Minimart, on the right-hand side of Route 9.

A quarter mile before you arrive, you’ll pass our house. We inherited a garden full of flowers that bloom annually.

Do they come from Goodell seeds?

We like to think so. After all, our deed mentions the Goodell lands on which it was built.

Michael Carolan is a writer and professor at Clark University in Worcester. He is researching the history of Dwight, Massachusetts.

Michael Carolan was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His writing and reporting has been named notable in the Best American Essays series and has received prizes including from the Atlantic Monthly.
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