Greenville celebrates 50 years of the camellia

Published 4:33 pm Monday, January 26, 2009

Greenville has been known as the Camellia City for 71 years. Judging by the wealth of blooms brought to the latest meeting of the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society, the appellation is still a very apt one.

The location of the event – the 160-year-old Henry-Beeland-Stanley home, a Greek Revival beauty surrounded by many, many camellias – was a fitting place to celebrate the bloom that has been a part of the local landscape for many generations.

View photos from the event HERE.

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Welcomed by the Camellia Girls of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, visitors and members gathered on the broad front porch of the antebellum mansion for the meeting.

Tables, trays and flats filled with pink, white, red and variegated camellias adorned the porch, where ornamental urns and even the home’s mailbox were also decorated with the beautiful flower.

The society dispensed with its usual business to devote the time exclusively to the camellia, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year as Alabama’s official flower.

It was also an opportunity to celebrate the people who were instrumental in making the local favorite the state flower.

“This is where the very first camellia show in Greenville was held, in the back yard in 1937 by Mr. Glenn Stanley,” said BCHGS president Barbara Middleton.

J. Glenn Stanley, the grandfather of the current home’s residents, Jean Hardin Bauer and Mollie Hardin Utley, was the longtime editor of The Greenville Advocate and an ardent camellia enthusiast.

“For years, he had a column (“Greenville Beauties”) every week telling about everyone’s camellias – which ones were blooming and where to find them,” Middleton said.

Stanley promoted the idea of making Greenville “The Camellia City,” a name officially adopted by the city in 1938. He also encouraged individuals, businesses, schools and organizations to plant and promote camellias.

“We still have lots of camellias you can see around town that were part of those planted more than 70 years ago,” Middleton said.

Stanley was one of several Greenvillians who actively supported the city’s favorite flower becoming the state’s official bloom.

“Attempts were made in 1949 and 1951 to pass such legislation, but it was outvoted by those in favor of keeping the goldenrod,” Middleton said.

A Butler County native, state representative LaMont Glass, introduced a bill to designate the camellia as the state flower in 1959. Governor John Patterson, whose wife just happened to be a Butler County native, gave his signature to the bill. Success at last!

“Over the years, a number of Greenville camellias have been registered, including the LaMont Glass, the Webb Stanley, the Lillian Jernigan, the Glenn Stanley, and several others,” Middleton said.

“Many in Greenville should be congratulated for their efforts to plant and promote camellias here.”

Following Middleton’s presentation, attendees moved inside the spacious rooms of the antebellum mansion to enjoy a lavish array of hors d’oeuvres and sweet treats, among them fresh fruit, cheese straws, petit fours and old-fashioned pound cake. A number of camellia arrangements, created by Glenn Stanley’s granddaughter Laurie Hardin Alverson, graced the mantelpieces and tables in the home.

Middleton’s dazzling photos of the county’s camellias were also on display in several rooms, along with artwork by local camellia artists like Shirley Roberson.

Guests admired such interior and exterior features as the home’s Chinese Chippendale balcony, soaring Corinthian columns, heart of pine floors, Waterford crystal chandeliers and Italian marble – features pointed out by Stanley’s great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Utley, who shared some of the history of the grand old house. Many of Glenn Stanley’s family members were part of the special occasion.

Among the out-of-town guests present at the camellia celebration were LaMont Glass’s granddaughter, visiting from Virginia, and several representatives of the American Camellia Society, who traveled from Birmingham for the event.