The greenhouses in 2013
Quakertown location in 2013
In the mid-1800s, William Didden left his native Germany with his young family to build a life in the New World. The Diddens settled in West Philadelphia/Yeadon where they established a florist business. In time, son George grew restless and wanted to strike out on his own.
In 1914, George and his wife Laura Crist Didden moved from Philadelphia and located in the "frontier land" of Orvilla, about thirty miles north of Philadelphia. Here he joined in partnership with a Mr. Siter.
Some aspects of the partnership arrangement did not satisfy George, so in 1921 he sold his interest in the Orvilla site. That same year Didden bought two nearby acres in Hatfield Borough at the corner of West Vine Street and Butler Avenue. Soon after that, he bought an additional five acres from a neighbor. George, Laura and their two children, Caroline and Clarence, moved into the farmhouse on the property which was adjacent to the train and trolley lines.
Didden's start-up greenhouse was 240' by 30'. He also had a 95' x 30' hothouse and a 50' x 20' potting shed. During the Depression when many businesses suffered, the local florist business flourished since weddings and funerals continued to use flowers. At this time, George Didden's greenhouse served both wholesale and retail.
After graduating from Hatfield High School, son Clarence left the business when he felt called to the Gospel ministry. Daughter Caroline married her high school sweetheart Daniel K. Ziegler. They established a home in the upper Perkiomen Valley where Dan taught science and math in the local high school. Expecting their third child and with full wages no longer assured, Dan accepted his father-in-law's offer to become full-time foreman. The family moved back to its Hatfield roots. Dan's background on a farm and his college science training helped equip him for his new position.
During this period, the business expanded by dropping the retail end and focusing on growing for wholesale use only. Both Didden and Ziegler gained recognition as superb growers, developing their own strains of cinerarias, calceolarias, verbenas, phlox and lobelias. The large "football" cut mums were in demand, frequently being shipped to the flower markets in New York City.
In 1947, George Didden died and the business continued as a partnership of his widow, Laura, and their son-in-law, Dan Ziegler. Ziegler spotted the trend toward mass production of garden plants and became an early producer of the market pack line. Another trend of the trade was away from dependency on the florist shops and toward garden centers. Under his leadership, the eleven glass houses were augmented by ribbed Quonset-hut style houses covered with plastic sheeting. These houses had thermostatically-controlled venting for cooling.
Dan and Caroline Ziegler had five children, each of whom at some point worked in the business. Son Daniel George felt God's call into the Gospel ministry and left his vocational plans of entering the greenhouse business. In 1959 daughter Eleanor married Russell M. Ruch who had grown up in nearby Montgomeryville. Periodically through the years, Ruch had worked at Didden's. In March of 1966, Dan Ziegler died very unexpectedly at the age of 58. Ruch was able to lead the business through the spring season, after which the business was put up for sale.
The family members rallied around, encouraging the continuation of the business. Russ and Eleanor Ruch bought the partnership business from Laura Didden and the estate of Daniel K. Ziegler. During Ruch's leadership, the business incorporated and continued to expand. The facility grew to eventually utilize 24 houses, some glass and some plastic.
In the 1980s, son Kenneth R. Ruch became general manager. As sons Jonathan and Daniel were ready to join the work force, each also joined the management team at Didden's.
In 1986, the Ruch sons acquired land in Richland Township in the area known as Shelly, just north of Quakertown, PA, and formed Diddens North Inc. Through the years, a complex of greenhouses and production facilities has been developed to serve the growing needs of the business. Plants produced at Diddens North are sold through the Hatfield site.
In 1997, Didden's began a major modernization project. Time had caused deterioration to the nine wood-frame glass houses. These houses had concrete foundations and pipe bracing. (The two largest houses were 365 feet long!) In July demolition began to make way for a state-of-the-art range of new greenhouses. Also demolished was the boiler room facing West Vine Street, which had been a local landmark with its two tall smokestacks.
Remaining from the pre-existent structures are the office/work area building at the corner of Butler Avenue and West Vine Street and fifteen gutter connected houses. The demolished greenhouses were replaced with fifteen modern 35' by 150' greenhouses. The new interconnected facility allows workers and customers to traverse almost the entire greenhouse property without going outdoors. An elevated gutter system permits forklifts and other vehicles access to the greenhouses. A new computer system monitors activities such as automated watering, lighting and temperature control.
December 23, 2002 brought a new challenge to Didden’s as a fire tore its way through the warehouse. Hatfield Volunteer Fire Company was joined by several other companies as the rapidly moving fire devoured the warehouse and the supplies within. Damage to nearby greenhouses was minimized by the use of two hook and ladder trucks. Didden management expressed gratitude for the work of the firefighters. Two other areas of thanks were that nearly all Christmas orders had already been delivered and that there was no personal injury or death.
A spacious and efficient steel building now houses equipment and supplies. New construction on the east side of Butler Ave. brings the total greenhouses to thirty-two, covering about 120,000 square feet, with about three acres of production area. Didden’s currently grows over 700 varieties of annuals and perennials and is committed to quality, selection and service. George Didden's three great-grandsons, Ken, Jon and Dan, now own and operate the wholesale-only business, making Didden's the oldest family-owned business in the Hatfield area.