Reynoldsburg embraces history with Tomato Festival
REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — Alexander Livingston developed tomatoes in the 1800s, which played an important role in Reynoldsburg’s history.
“For someone who didn’t finish school, he was a genius,” said Mary Turner Stoots, of horticultural legend and Reynoldsburg native Alexander Livingston.
Stoots is a permanent resident of Reynoldsburg and president of the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society.
She said the tomatoes developed by Reynoldsburg native Alexander Livingston in the 1800s played an important role in the town’s history.
“It took him 20 years to develop the first one that was juicy and had tough enough skin that you could pack them for travel. So the genetics were in the plant, not the fruit,” Turner Stoots said. “And he was really ahead of himself when it came to genetics.”
The tomato is called the paragon, the first commercial tomato, bigger and sweeter than the others.
In total, Livingston cultivated 31 varieties and founded a seed company in 1850, which remains open to this day in Columbus.
His house still stands at the corner of Palmer and Graham Roads in Reynoldsburg, along with the wagon used by his employee Benjamin Patterson to transport escaped slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.
“He drove them to Granville,” Turner Stoots said. “From Granville, they either went to Utica or they went all the way to Mount Vernon.”
The City of Reynoldsburg continues to honor Livingston with a tomato festival.
The three-day event features music, tomato growing competitions, food including fried green tomatoes and more.
A Pataskala farmer I spoke to says there is still admiration for the father of the modern tomato.
“We live off the land. We grow much of the food we eat, we grow. It’s amazing to learn the history of where it all comes from,” said Caren Conkey of Birney’s Miracle Farm.
Turner Stoots said it was important that Livingston’s legacy be kept alive for generations to come.
“He put Reynoldsburg on the map,” she said. “He did a lot for horticulture in general. People still learn from the things he did.”