First florist in Darlington
By Brian Gandy
Darlington County Historical Commission
Today, as I sit to write this article at the request of the Darlington News & Press, I am extremely honored that this column coincides with Black History Month. Over the past year, we have been focusing on collections management and digging deep within our collections to research material for our new museum. We are making a concerted effort to balance the narrative and we are committed to presenting history that accurately reflects the community at large. During this process, my attention was brought to a local lady named Annie Mae Vann Reid. Annie was born in North Carolina, relocated to Darlington, and proved that she was limited only by her own imagination and ingenuity. Reid had a spacious front yard and as a hobby began cultivating flowers, especially dahlias and roses. Her success in hobby gardening led her to begin experimenting with other varieties of flowers, and as her beautiful garden grew, so did local interest. Annie was always generous in giving cuttings to those who asked, and eventually a new business was born. Darlington was unique in that there had been horticulturists much earlier who would cultivate and sell plants, even prior to the Civil War. What Darlington did not have, however, was a florist. Annie Vann Reid found a niche that afforded her the opportunity to utilize her love of plants and people to build a very successful business enterprise. The Norfolk Journal & Guide had this to say about Reid in 1944: “Her chief interests are flowers and people. She has cultivated these in such a manner as to give her a well-rounded life of success and happiness.” Reid’s business ventures were vast. In addition to her home, she owned rental property, a 5-acre production garden, greenhouses and a flower shop. Her home, garden and greenhouses were located on Chestnut Street in the block now occupied by the Mayo Magnet School. Also located on this site was her refrigeration house, documented as being one of the best in the Southeast. Her flower shop, first located on South Main Street, was later relocated. Annie’s customer base was roughly 85 percent Caucasian, and her outreach went well into the surrounding towns as she supplied the flowers and seeds they needed. Within our collection, we have documentation of flower sales to businesses in Columbia, Florence, Camden, Marion and Hartsville. Annie even had a 20-year standing order with the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion to provide flowers for various occasions. Annie Reid was not just growing, cutting, selling, and arranging flowers. She was helping develop a community. Documentation also shows that on one occasion she provided a cash infusion to a local floral business to keep it solvent during an economic downturn. Reid was one of Darlington’s substantial citizens, and her arrangements were coveted by everyone who wished to make an impression. Today, as I think about the current racial situation in our country, I get excited when looking at people like Annie Vann Reid. I know you’ve heard the expression “the other side of the tracks.” Annie Vann Reid did not let the tracks define her boundaries. She was a regular presenter at conferences designed to promote female African-American entrepreneurs and was very supportive of her community. That cash infusion she made during an economic downturn was actually to a Caucasian-owned business. Reid saw the value of success only through the lens of community success. Though the owners have changed, the business she started, Darlington Florist, still serves the community 97 years later. If you are interested in learning more about Annie Mae Vann Reid and others like her, visit the Historical Commission at 204 Hewitt St., Darlington. We’re working to preserve, protect and promote our rich Darlington County history.