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The History Of The American Grape

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


Nowhere in the history of American fruit-growing is there a story as romantic or as fascinating as the history of the American Grape. It is a story full of vicissitudes, vain endeavors, and repeated failures which were at last superseded by complete success. From the first America was known as a land of vines. It is said that the old Norse Viking "Leif-the-Lucky" called New England "Vineland" as early as the year 1000. The early colonists were filled with wonder at the great profusion of grape vines all over the new country, and they had visions of vine-clad hills and terraces that would rival those of France and Germany.

The early legislative assemblies made vine growing compulsory, and large sums of money were spent importing vines and scions of the Vinifera grape. Vine dressers were brought over from Germany to care for the vineyards and old country` methods were imitated as closely as possible. These old world people knew nothing about the Phylloxera or the Mildews. In spite of all care and money lavished upon the vine-yards, the result was always the same—failure.

Two of the most famous attempts to grow the European grape in America were made by John J. Dufour and Nicholas Longworth. Du-four with a colony of Swiss settlers planted several extensive vineyards in Kentucky. These flourished a few short years and died. Longworth spent 30 years of his life and thousands of dollars in money in a vain effort to grow the European grape in Ohio. His writings on "Grape Culture," in which he recorded his ideas and experiences, remain as a standard reference to this day.

Thomas Jefferson advised growing the native varieties without further delay, but it was not until the opening of the nineteenth century that any attention was paid to the. improvement of the American varieties. William Prince of the famous Prince Nurseries of Long Island experimented with the European grapes for over a half century, and then gave his attention to improving American kinds. He did more towards creating an interest in the native grapes than any other one man. The first commercial vineyards were set out by a colony of Germans near York, Penn. The industry grew very slowly and very little was heard of it for the next quarter of a century.

In 1852 the Concord was introduced by E. W. Bull of Cambridge, Mass. The advent of this great variety marked the beginning of American grape growing east of the Rocky Mountains. Its size, hardiness, productiveness, and shipping qualities soon gained for it the foremost rank among the grapes. Horace Greeley called it the "grape for the millions." ' Modern methods of grape growing had their beginning with the Concord. From it have descended such well-known varieties as the Worden, Moore's Early, Isabella and Pocklington. From 1852 to 1880 marked the boom period of American grape culture in eastern United States. Since that time, due to competition with California grapes, the acreage has increased more slowly.

In 1859 there were 6,000 acres of grapes east of the Mississippi, in 1900 there were 240,000 acres, an increase of near 8,000 acres per year. In 1850 there were no varieties that will go down in history, today we have such wonderful varieties as the Concord, Worden, Niagara and Delaware.

Now, if in less than 60 years we have brought up grapes like the Concord and Worden from the little sour Fox Grape of our northern woods, how may they yet be improved by modern methods of plant breeding? What could we have had if the first 200 years of our early horticulture had not been wasted in a useless endeavor to grow the Vinifera? And what are the vast possibilities of American Grape Culture lying before us as an unopened book?

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