Landmark greenhouse closes after 48 years

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

October 4, 2013

STANVILLE — With the end of Blackburn’s Greenhouse and Garden Center’s last day in business quickly approaching, manager Carol Blackburn said, “I’ve managed to get through this entire day without crying,” before turning to dab at her eyes.

“I didn’t quite make it,” she said, afterward.

Blackburn and her family said goodbye Monday to the greenhouse business that has been their mainstay for nearly a half century.

Otis and Eleanor Blackburn opened their first greenhouse in the early 1960s, said their son and company president, Randall. Otis Blackburn had been a coal miner for 18 years and a plumbing contractor, before opening a truck farm in the Fishtrap area of Pike County, where locals would go to get apples, peaches, strawberries and corn, among other items.

In the 1950s, officials with the University of Kentucky talked with Otis Blackburn about opening a greenhouse, and soon after constructed a couple on his farm. Then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came calling in 1964, to inform him that the farm would become a casualty of the impending construction of Fishtrap Lake.

In 1965, Blackburn’s Greenhouse opened at its present location along U.S. 23, but even then, it would not be spared from continuing improvements in the region. In 1969, the greenhouse was forced to close for two years due to road construction. During that time, the greenhouse was dismantled in order to fill in the property, raising it level with the new U.S. 23 and out of the floodplain.

After Otis Blackburn died in 1984, management of Blackburn’s first fell to son Gerald Blackburn, then in recent years to Carol Blackburn.

Despite all the challenges, however, Blackburn’s quickly became a landmark in Floyd County. Widely known for their Christmas displays, the greenhouse grew hundreds of poinsettias each year not only for retail customers, but also for local flower shops.

But although man and machine could not close the business for long, the march of time finally did. Carol Blackburn, who began managing the greenhouse after retiring from the Pikeville Independent School System, is leaving to care for her ailing mother, and the family decided now would be a good time to close.

Carol Blackburn said the decision to close came after several pieces fell together like a puzzle.

“My customers have been wonderful,” Carol Blackburn said. “I just feel that it’s time.”

Randall Blackburn said the economy did not play a role in the decision to close. He said business has held steady, but added that if the business remained open, he believes the downturn in the coal economy would eventually take a toll.

“When Obama got elected, he kind of put the hurt on the coal business,” Randall Blackburn said. “And all the other businesses hinge on that.”

For now, the family has not yet decided what to do with the property Randall Blackburn said.

But while the family believes it is time to move on to a new chapter, Randall Blackburn said the decision was not easy. He said the best part of running the business was getting to know the customers.

“We appreciate everybody who has been our past customers,” Randall Blackburn said. “A lot of them have become friends of the family.”