Vol. III, No. 3, Winter 1990


Preservation Corner

The Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station

by Robert Gilmore



Commercial fruit growing in Missouri, which began in the 1860s, expanded greatly following the Civil War, and by the 1880s and 1890s many farmers were specializing in fruit culture. Apples, peaches, strawberries and tomatoes were the favored crops. In one decade, from 1880 to 1890, Missouri went from the tenth largest fruit raising state in the nation to first place, with apples as the main crop. The Ozarks of southern Missouri earned the nickname, "The Land of the Big Red Apple," and the area around Wright County in southwest Missouri was at the heart of this growth.

In 1882 the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad was built east and south from Springfield, Missouri across the Ozarks. The railroad promoted the fruit industry: by its advertising the railroad encouraged farmers to buy land along its lines for fruit raising; only by rail could heavy, perishable tree fruit be successfully shipped to market. In 1899 at Mountain Grove, Missouri, a Wright County fruitbelt village on the railroad about midway between Springfield and the Arkansas line, the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station was established by an act of the Legislature, with a mandate to support and expand the productivity and profitiability of the Missouri fruit industry. Until 1913, it was the only experiment station in the United States dedicated exclusively to fruit culture.

To house the various activities of the Fruit Station, the Legislature in 1900 appropriated $9,350 to construct several buildings of "first class quality"to be designed by State Architect Henry H. Hohenschild: an Administration Building, a house for the manager, a cottage for the superintendant, and a barn. Local citizens donated the site, 190 acres of land.

The Administration Building served the Station until 1968 when a new administration building was constructed. The old building (now known as Faurot Hall after Frederick Faurot, Director of the Station from 1918 to 1933) was scheduled to be demolished in 1973, but interest in its preservation by local citizens, who consider it a community landmark, caused those plans to be changed. Southwest Missouri State University, which assumed administrative responsibility for the Station in 1974, is cooperating with local groups to restore the building. Some $100,000 has been spent to date, most of it on basic structural stabilization. Exterior walls were buckling and had to be braced and secured before they could be tuckpointed. New windows and a new wood shingle roof have secured the interior from weather damage. Although the exterior now presents a good appearance, and the building is structurally sound, little restoration has been done inside. When the interior is completed, the Station will have a new laboratory, classroom, and conference room. The second floor will house offices and part of the Paul Evans Library of Fruit Science. The Old Admininstration Building will then once again be functioning very much as it was when it was first constructed.

The Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station Administration Building and Director's Residence, Mountain Grove, 1901-1904. Architect: Harry H. Hohenschield, State Architect. The buildings express popular styles of the late nineteenth century: Queen Anne, Craftsman, Stick, and the Romanesque and Tudor revivals in the work of H. H. Richardson. The Administration Building is brick; the residence is frame. Administration Building, National Register of Historic Places. (Early photo, courtesy State Fruit Experiment Station Collection.)
Now entering its tenth decade of public service, the State Fruit Experiment Station has not only benefitted the fruit industry, but has profited its home community by architectural example. In the first thirty years of the twentieth century, many fine homes were build in Mountain Grove. There is little doubt that the quality of taste, design, and workmanship which characterize the homes of this community were influenced by the rural elegance of Hohenschild's Tudor Revival Administration Building and his Shingle Style Director's residence. It was a wise legislature that directed these buildings be of "first class quality."

Unloading fruit at the railroad siding shed, Marionville, Missouri, early 1900s. Note the signs of rural affluence: buggies drawn by good horses.

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