By Mary Giorgio
Nestled in the community of Middlebury, Indiana, sits Krider World’s Fair Garden, a park featuring display and botanic gardens originally conceived for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The garden was the brainchild of Vernon Krider, owner of a wholesale and mail-order nursery. Following the end of the fair, Krider transported his display to Middlebury, where it has remained for the past 85 years.
Vernon Krider began his nursery in 1894. That year, his father gifted him with two acres of land following his high school graduation. Krider planted small berry plants on the land, letting them grow, and cultivating cuttings to begin his nursery. He made his first sale in 1896: $25 for 5,000 raspberry plants. Over time, Krider purchased more land and expanded his offerings. While his business originally began as a wholesale nursery, Krider eventually expanded into mail-order sales. In fact, Krider ran one of the earliest mail-order nurseries in the United States.
The 1933 World’s Fair came at the perfect time for the business. Krider saw the display garden as an opportunity to expand the national market for his mail-order nursery.
The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the “Century of Progress International Exposition”, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the City of Chicago. The hottest technology of its day dominated displays, including the famed diesel-powered Zephyr and an extravagant $1.4 million passenger car. Every aspect of the fair was designed to promote feelings of optimism and wonder at what the future might hold (sadly, World War II would erupt six years later).
Although the country was in the midst of the worst economic crisis in memory, the fair was tremendously successful. Originally scheduled to last just one year, organizers decided to continue the fair through 1934 in response to great demand. It is estimated that over 48 million people visited the exhibits between 1933 and 1934.
Krider’s decision to participate in the fair turned out to be a savvy business move. He spent over $10,000 on plants and decorations for his display garden. “Krider’s Diversified Garden” became a popular stop for fairgoers. By the time the fair ended in 1934, he had collected a whopping 250,000 names and addresses of potential customers for his mail-order business.
Krider’s nursery flourished during the next few decades. At its peak, its grounds covered 420 acres and had over 100 employees. It became the largest employer in town with orders so numerous the Middlebury Post Office had to expand to meet the demand.
In 1945, Krider patented the Festival, the first thornless rose in the United States. Roses thereafter became a big business for the nursery. Krider roses were so popular that in 1971, President Nixon’s daughter Tricia Nixon used them for her wedding ceremony.
Beginning in the 1980s, big-box chains began to take business from local operations like Krider Nursery. The business was sold in 1986 amid slumping sales and eventually closed. In 1993, the Krider family donated the 2.4-acre World’s Fair Garden to the town of Middlebury.
Today, visitors can still see the original waterwheel, windmill, and the giant toadstool that were on display at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The enchanting garden also features walking paths and a giant quilt garden, with flowers planted in a unique quilt pattern. It is a favorite spot among locals and tourists alike.