Wallace Brother Herbarium sketch
Friday, October 6, 2023

Statesville-rooted Business to be Featured on Highway Historical Marker

Oct 6, 2023

A North Carolina business that by 1890 was the largest herbarium in the world soon will be recognized with a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker.

Established by Jewish immigrants David and Isaac Wallace in 1859 as a retail and wholesale mercantile house in Statesville, the Wallace Brothers Herbarium was located at the corner of Meeting and Walnut streets. Along with botanist Mordecai E. Hyams, their business specialized in medicinal herbs, barks, berries, and roots often bartered from customers in exchange for merchandise. By 1890, the business had grown to 40,000 square feet in size and was processing more than 2,000 varieties of herbal ingredients.

The marker commemorating the Wallace Brothers Herbarium will be dedicated Sunday, Oct. 15 at 1 p.m., at 300 S. Center St, Statesville, N.C., adjacent to the Statesville Civic Center. A reception at the Congregation Emanuel Synagogue, 206 Kelly St., Statesville, will follow the unveiling ceremony. All are invited.

With Hyams’ help, the Wallace Brothers Herbarium saw success and acclaim on a national and international level. A Wallace herb display was the centerpiece of the North Carolina exhibits at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and the 1878 Paris Exposition, winning gold medals at each. They also exhibited at the 1893 Chicago and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fairs.

The success of the herbarium and the herb trade helped keep rural North Carolinians afloat during the economic panic of the 1870s. The company gave work to “women, children, and maimed or broken down men” and David Wallace was described as “a friend at all times to every call of the poor and needy.” However, in 1895 the Wallace Brothers went bankrupt. The company was saved by an investor from New York with the Wallace brothers and family retained as employees, but this marked the end of the Wallaces’ monopoly on the market. The brothers died within the next decade, and their descendants carried on the company into the mid-20th century.

Although the advent of synthetic drugs has largely reduced the demand for herbal remedies, the legacy left on North Carolina by the Wallace brothers and Hyams and the field of botany continues today. Hyams’ efforts helped to foster and preserve a long-standing tradition of cultivating native botanicals in North Carolina. Likewise, Harvard botanists credit Hyams with identifying 166 new varieties of flora in North Carolina, including the re-discovery of a rare plant, Shortia galacifolia, and ascertaining its location within McDowell County. Among the institutions holding Wallace specimens in their botanical collections are the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and numerous North Carolina museums.

For additional information about the historical marker, please visit https://ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=M-57.

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.

The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.

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