Flowers had long been a part of John B. Harmon Sr.’s livelihood since he served as caretaker of the 25-acre Belle Grove estate, the home of D.C. Howell. Indeed, Harmon and his family, which included four children, lived in a gardener’s cottage on the grounds of the estate, which has been enlarged and restored. Harmon left that position in 1911 to become a supervisor of the State Roads Commission.
Harmon also purchased the Burns Dry Goods store at 906 Frederick Road, which became the family’s new home above the shop. For a time, his wife, Mary Agnes, operated it as “M.A. Harmon, Stationers,” according to the book, Catonsville, 1880 to 1940: From Village to Suburb, by Edward Orser, professor of American Studies at UMBC. Orser devoted a chapter in this pictorial book to the Harmon family, which has strong roots in the community.
The name is a bit of a misnomer as she continued “the business of selling aprons, dresses, scarves thread, laces and ribbons,” according to the Jan. 26, 1966, edition of the Herald Argus and Baltimore Countian. The story was written as the two spinster daughters—Margaret and Josephine—were closing up the florist shop where they also resided for 55 years and moving to an apartment on N. Beaumont Ave.
By 1914, the dry goods section of the shop was relegated to one side to make way for the Harmons’ burgeoning floral enterprise. John Harmon had purchased an L-shaped greenhouse from the estate of Frank Brown in Baltimore, who served as governor from 1892 to 1896. He rebuilt the greenhouse at the rear of the Frederick Road property. Soon, the entire shop was devoted to the flourishing florist business.
A photograph in Orser’s book shows John Jr., in uniform as the Mt. St. Joseph College High School graduate entered the Army at age 19 to fight in World War I. The caption stated, in part: “In a letter from ‘Somewhere in France,’ dated November 7, 1917, John wrote to his father of ‘some of the most beautiful outside chrysanthemums and dahlias that could be raised.’ He returned home safely in 1918.”
When John Harmon Sr. died in 1927, John Harmon Jr., took over the business and the two sisters “took over the making of flower designs, bouquets and corsages after their mother died in 1945.”
The sisters reminisced about their years in the business and noted that during the busy season they made 300 to 500 corsages for each Easter Sunday. They also attended mass daily at St. Mark’s Church.
“Their last flowers were arranged for sale and delivery in their small, neat, aroma-filled work rooms the last day of 1965,” according to the newspaper story. In 1966, Howard and Frances Medicus purchased the building and moved the Hilton Flower Shop, which they had operated on Bloomsbury Avenue, to the new location. The florist business flourishes today although it has changed names and owners.
Thanks go to Bryce Rumbles, librarian at the Catonsville Branch, and Lisa Vicari, Catonsville Room volunteer and board member, Friends of the Catonsville Library, for their research assistance. Anyone interested in ordering digital reprints of any of the historical images featured in this series, should contact Bryce Rumbles at firstname.lastname@example.org.