Newton County’s rich agricultural heritage will be featured in a forthcoming exhibit in Springfield, Mo.


Newton County’s rich agricultural heritage will be featured in a forthcoming exhibit in Springfield, Mo.

The exhibit features the life and times, as well as the work, of Hermann Jaeger, the famous grape grower who lived in Newton County from 1864 to 1895.

For the exhibit, Dr. Bethany Walker, along with several colleagues, has gathered a large collection of Jaeger material — possibly the largest ever assembled. Not only is Jaeger’s life and work part of the exhibit, it includes a broad look at everything relating to Jaeger and his Newton County vineyard.

For example, the creators of the exhibit wanted to know how he conducted his commerce. He was well-known for selling and shipping grape cuttings, but how did he ship them, for example? The exhibit includes a look the major roadways in the area. This includes stage coach routes since it is known that he often shipped his cuttings via stagecoach.

The exhibit leaves no stone unturned in telling the Jaeger story. The professors involved are interested in the science of Jaeger’s work, as well as his personal history.

Walker says the researchers’ interest in Jaeger began with a look at his work in genetics. Scientists in Italy, led by Prof. Gabriele Di Gaspero, are working on a treatment for mildew and other diseases in grapes. Through a genetic technique, similar to DNA testing, they began studying Italian grapes to trace them back to their original roots. After much research, they now believe a grape variety bred by Hermann Jaeger may hold the key to success.

At Missouri State University, Prof. Laszlo Kovacs is working on the genetics research with Prof. Di Gaspero. When the exhibit opens in April, Prof. Di Gaspero will fly in from Italy to be with his American counterparts and celebrate the opening.

Walker’s interest in the project is in protecting the environment by eliminating pesticides and fungicides. If the geneticists prove that Jaeger grapes can produce fruit that is free of mildew and disease, then grapes could be grown without the use of these chemicals.

That would make Walker very happy.

“My main goal is to eliminate these chemicals and make the grapes organic,” she said.

As the scientists began research on the Jaeger grape, they felt it was important to learn about the man and how he did his work. Now the study is also being done by Missouri State University, the University of Missouri and the University of Udine in Italy.

As part of their study, the research team has visited the farm near Monark Springs where Herman and his brother John had their vineyards. And more visits are to come. They are searching for old vines on the farm and even walking on the banks of Shoal Creek, gathering wild grapes just as Jaeger did.

Jaeger was born in Switzerland and came the United States in 1864. He lived about seven miles east of Neosho, where he and his brother, John, settled and raised their families. The brothers set out vineyards shortly after they arrived, and spent their lives selling grapes and wine. They were soon grafting their domestic grapes with wild grapes which Jaeger found along Shoal Creek. These newly-bred grapes were very hardy and much in demand. As a result they also sold grape cuttings.

Jaeger was more interested in the science of the grape. Therefore, John managed the vineyards and Herman worked on creating new hybrids. In his work, Jaeger was connected with two of the most noted grape experts in America—Dr. George Hussman of the University of Missouri and Dr. Thomas Volney Munson of Dennison, Texas. The three men exchanged many cuttings and shared information on their own work. They wrote numerous letters back and forth—some of which survive.

In December of 1888, Munson and Jaeger were awarded the French Agricultural Legion of Honor for their work in stopping a deadly grape louse (phylloxera) which threatened the vineyards of Europe. By using grape cuttings from Jaeger vineyards, which were sent to Europe in boxcar loads, the vineyards of Europe were saved.

Because of his work, Jaeger is often called the savior of the wine industry. His cuttings were planted or transplanted in several European countries, including France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Now an international team of scientists has turned to Jaeger once again. If his grapes prove successful in this current research, Herman Jaeger may once again be considered a savior of world's vineyards.

Not every man can save an industry twice, and almost none can do it the second time 100 years after his death.

Herman Jaeger is an important figure in agricultural history, and is greatly admired in Europe. However, he is little known in America, even by local people. But those working on this project hope their research and this exhibit will awaken America to one of the great men of agriculture.

On April 8, the exhibit will open at the Springfield Discovery Center. Several local people have contributed to
the exhibit, which will be a permanent fixture in Springfield. Although it will be permanent, some of the items on loan will be returned to their owners after a three-month showing. Then the exhibit will become a traveling exhibit available to universities, colleges, cities and towns.

The public is invited to the Springfield Discovery Center in April or in the months to follow. There will be numerous announcements about the opening so watch the Neosho Daily News for information.