Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Theophilus Roessle - Colonie's Celery Magnate

Near the Gansevoort-Melville lot on the South Ridge, a massive granite shaft marks the grave of a man who owed at least part of his substantial fortune to the cultivation of celery and owned a large portion of what is now the town of Colonie.

Born in 1811 near Stuttgart, Theophilus G. Roessle was a German immigrant from who came to Albany penniless at the age of fifteen having lost both his trunk counting his few possessions and his traveling companion who took ill and died not long after their arrival in Rochester.

He worked at various jobs and learned both landscaping and market gardening until he was able to afford to lease a farm and, with the income from the farm, began to buy land along the Albany-Schenectady Turnpike (now Central Avenue between Osborne and Wolf Roads). This area would later become the hamlet of Roessleville and, as his wealth increased, Theophilus Roessle built a large, elegant mansion near present-day Elmhurst Avenue. The estate, its entrance road flanked by stone lions, is long since gone.

A wholesaler of produce whose property included orchards with about five thousand fruit trees, he focused his attention on the cultivation of celery, especially the white variety which was achieved by covering the young plants with earth to deprive them of sunlight. He reportedly sold a thousand bunches of celery a day in season which a good percent of the sales being out-of-state. He even authored a book on the subject, How To Cultivate and Preserve Celery in 1860. He later purchased Albany's famed Delavan House in 1849, founded the Fort William Henry Hotel in near Lake George, and later took over the Arlington Hotel in Washington, D.C.. Roessle died in 1890 and his sons followed him in the produce business.

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