When Herman Jaeger came to Monark Springs from Switzerland in 1865, little could he have dreamed what his work with grapes would do, or how far reaching and powerful that work would be. His work with grapes won him international acclaim, as he was a major player in saving the vineyards of Europe from complete destruction.
Although he created thousands of hybrids, his best grape was called the Norton 70. It was planted all over the world and crossed and recrossed with other varieties.
However, over the years, the original grape was lost — until recently, when Norton 70s were found at the University of California at Davis.
Thanks to Missouri State University and to John and Linda Smerdon of Monark Springs, the Norton 70 is back in Newton County.
On Saturday, the Smerdon family — along with city officials, members of the Neosho Arts Council, Shoal Creek Heritage Preservation, the Newton County Historical Society and others — gathered at Big Spring Park to plant two Norton 70s near the Jaeger monument.
Principle speaker at the ceremony was Courtney Coleman, a PhD candidate from Missouri State. Coleman has long studied Herman Jaeger and his grapes and is considered an expert in the field of viticulture.
A student of Dr. Laszlo Kovacs, Coleman said this planting in Neosho was a "special thing" and represents all that Jaeger did. She further stated that the Norton 70 was the parent of at least 200 varieties and the grandparent of thousands of others.
Coleman also stated that the grape industry has changed and grape growers today are suffering with stress and disease in their grapes. She said the work that Jaeger did almost 150 years ago may prove to be the answer to the current grape problems.
This means that Herman Jaeger may save the world's grape vineyards a second time.
John Mills, of the Neosho Arts Council, spoke briefly and predicted that Newton County could be an ideal place to grow grapes. Noting that Missouri was once the second leading grape producer in the U.S., he said that it could be a leader again.
"These hills are the perfect place to see grapes growing, and grapes could be important to the county," Mills said.
Smerdon, who lives on the Herman Jaeger homesite, thanked all the people who have helped promote Jaeger, and all who have encouraged him and his family in their efforts to bring back the North 70. He reminded the group that almost every wine today has Norton 70 DNA in it, and began their DNA lives in Newton County.
He said that he and many others are eager to see the plants in the park produce their first fruits.
Coleman said the plants in Big Spring Park should produce grapes very soon. They are hardy and healthy and, very importantly, they are home at last.