Underhill Ferneries was founded in 1936 by my Grandfather – Frank E. Underhill Sr.
In 1935 he came upon a natural oak hammock in the middle of a pine tree forest while out squirrel hunting and thought it would be the perfect place to start a greens business. He then purchased 100 acres from Conrad Paper Company. I remember my father, Frank E. Underhill Jr. saying the paper company didn’t really want to sell but my Grandfather pestered them until they did.
Back then Plumosus, which originated in Italy, was the only green grown here. My Grandfather’s sister Vi and her husband Russell Pierson were the first to bring it to the states from Italy and plant it. This is where Pierson, FL (the fern capital of the world) got its name.
Those first 100 acres became known as Chesser Scrub due to the scrub of live and laurel oaks growing there. I think at one time there was a family named Chesser who homesteaded there. As a kid I even found a few old bricks where the homestead might have been.
I was only 6 months old when I started going to the farm at Chesser. There were no seatbelts back then and when I was old enough to sit up I would ride between the armrests of the driver and passenger seats. My Grandfather passed away in 1975 when I was 11 years old. I have fond memories of riding to the property with him and my Grandmother, Mary McKay Underhill. I can still hear my Grandmother saying “here we come to Chesser gate” as we would approach the entrance. My Grandmother, who we kids called “Ganny”, played a big part in the running of the business up until she passed away at 95 years young.
I have 6 children, 3 that are in the business and 3 more who plan on coming on in the future. I think working together with your family is a blessing and very rewarding though not always easy.
My father, Frank Jr. working together with my Mother Jean, made even bigger strides by investing in what became known as the “fern industry”. Artificial shade houses called sarans were the new thing. Leather Leaf along with many new greens were introduced and grown underneath the sarans.
As time moves forward, change is inevitable and happens in all businesses. Today Underhill Ferneries has grown and has 300 acres in production.
My father, Frank Jr. made a huge discovery on April 11th, 1971 – The Lord Jesus Christ. Without a doubt this has been a life changing event not only to him but to all of our family. My Father demonstrated this new found love of the Savior and expressed that love to everyone he met. He was a wonderful husband and father. Although no one is perfect and we all make mistakes, the amazing thing is that Jesus paid for our mistakes and through his grace we are saved if we confess our sins and trust in Him. So if you are tired of the same old race that this world offers, take a chance on Jesus, experience His grace, and we will see you in His kingdom some day. May The Lord Jesus Be Praised!
Frank E. Underhill III