Local veterans learn history, connection to camellias

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Greenville American Legion Post 24 hosted the Butler County Camellia Society President, Jan Newton, and a few other society members at its Jan. 4 meeting. Newton addressed the group to speak about the history of the camellia flower in Butler County, and how local veterans were a part of this story. 

Newton explained the American Camellia Society (ACS) was named to the National Camellia Trail. 

“There’s only 65 destinations on the American Camellia Trail, and two of them are the Smithsonian and Martha’s Vineyard,” Newton said. “Now here’s Greenville included on this list! We’re trail number 65 of 65.”

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Newton took the camellia’s history back to the very beginning in the 1700’s and recalled the events to veterans at the meeting.

“In the 1700’s the Samari in Japan discovered the camellia flower,” Newton said. “They used it for tea services, beauty and all kinds of things. The Samari were the protectors of the Emperor, but the emperor felt the Samari were getting too strong. Out of fear he wiped them out and proclaimed if anyone planted a camellia they would be executed.”

Newton described how the camellia flower laid dormant for around 100 years, until a German botanist discovered the camellia in Japan and brought it to Europe. 

“The Europeans went crazy over the camellias,” Newton said. “During the Europeans migration to the United States in the 1800’s they brought the camellias with them. In 1848 a 13-year-old girl, Aurelia Burkett Herbert, arrived in Butler County in a horse drawn wagon and she had a camellia plant in a tub of water in the wagon, and it was the first camellia that was planted in Butler County.”

Newton said Herbert grew up in Greenville and married a Calhoun, and that her grave can be found in the Pioneer Cemetery. She explained that this camellia tree grew and multiplied for 100 years and the camellias began sprouting up all over the area. 

Newton connected the veteran’s history to the continued cultivation of the camellia flower in the county. 

“When the men returned home from the world war, they were friends and they were a support group for each other,” Newton said. “The veterans had this interest in the camellias and it just sort of developed and so they started propagating the camellias and competing with each other. Pretty soon there was a show established.”

Newton said the ACS was established in 1946, and that same year the veterans and local men who had come to love the camellia’s created the Greenville Men’s Camellia Society. 

Society members say they are excited for the annual and historical Camellia Show taking place at Beeland Park on Jan. 27-28, from 1-4 p.m. The society encourages all community members to come out or to submit camellias in the show. For more show information contact Helena Shirley, Camellia Show Chairman, at 334-437-2509.

Liza Berrey, the Commander of the American Legion Post 24, ended the meeting reminding Legion and community members that any old, personal memorabilia that is not wanted anymore can be donated to the Butler County Historical Society. 

“I found old pictures of family members, and there’s a lot of history that I got to go through,” Berrey said. “It can be really hard to go through things like that. But what is hard for somebody else or something that has become irrelevant, is a treasure and nugget for someone else that they may never forget. Reach out to the Historical Society when you start getting rid of pictures, yearbooks, old programs and things like that.”

To join the American Legion Post 24 or visit a meeting and connect with other local veterans, contact Liza Berrey at 334-437-0132.