Thomas Volney Munson biography

THOMAS VOLNEY MUNSON needs no introduction to the readers of this volume nor to the horticulturists of the country, for he has an international reputation in this direction as the producer of some of the finest varieties of grapes that have been placed upon the market and he is regarded as authority upon the subject of viticulture and has been a contributor to many of the leading periodicals upon fruit raising, not only in this country but in foreign lands as well. He is moreover entitled to distinction from the fact that his business career has been such as any man would be proud to possess, for he has worked his way upward from comparative obscurity to rank with the successful citizens of the southwest and at the same time has made a record for usefulness in the great affairs of life that has made his name known from ocean to ocean. His birth occurred near Astoria, Illinois, September 26, 1843, and he is descended from Scotch ancestry. The first representative of the name in America was Captain Richard Manson, who was a Scotch sea captain belonging to a titled family. He settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about 1661. His son, John Manson, Sr., was the father of John Manson, Jr., and the grandfather of Richard Manson, the great-great-grandfather of our subject, who changed the spelling of the name to its present form. Theodore Munson, the grandfather, was married to Lydia Philbrook and their son William wedded Maria Linley, a daughter of Joseph and Sibilla (Benjamin) Linley. It was William and Maria (Linley) Munson, who became the parents of Thomas Volney Munson of this review.

Upon a farm in Illinois Thomas V. Munson was reared and he supplemented his early district school advantages by study in Fulton Seminary and in Bryan & Stratton’s Business College. He afterward taught school in Illinois for three years and later was graduated from Kentucky University with the degree of bachelor of science in 1870. During the succeeding years he filled the chair of science in that institution. He was married in 1870 to Miss Ellen Scott, a graduate of Sayre Female Institute of Lexington, and a daughter of C. S. Bell, a florist of Lexington, Kentucky. Removing from the Blue Grass state to Nebraska they were residents of the city of Lincoln from 1873 until 1876, when they came to Denison.

Mr. Munson secured a tract of land north of the city and met with many hardships, discouragements and difficulties in the early years of his residence here. He at first raised garden products and carrying these in a basket walked to town, where he disposed of his vegetables. By frugality, industry and economy he was at length enabled to extend his business and began planting trees, while in 1879 he commenced the publication of a small leaflet or catalogue. Every step was thoughtfully and carefully made after due consideration and he has continually enlarged the scope of his endeavors until he is today one of the best known horticulturists of the county. In 1887 he removed from his little farm of forty-five acres north of Denison to his present place of residence, consisting of something over one hundred acres. He afterward added to this property until he had about one hundred and fifty acres, while at the present time he and his son, Will B. Munson, retain the ownership of one hundred acres constituting the Munson nurseries, having sold the remainder as lots for residence purposes. The Munson nurseries are famous today throughout the country and Mr. Munson has made shipments to every state in the Union, although his trade is chiefly in Texas, Indian Territory, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and Arkansas. He has sent many thousands of grape cuttings to France and also trial lots to parties in France, Italy, Australia, Spain, Germany, Eastern Africa, to Brazil, Japan and Mexico. He has probably the largest business of the kind in America and has in the domestic trade conducted a large nursery business as a dealer in shrubs, seeds, evergreen trees and all kinds of fruit. He has gained a national reputation as a writer on viticulture and as the originator of improved fruits, especially grapes. The degree of Master of Science was conferred upon him by the State Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky in recognition of a thesis on “Forests and Trees of Texas,” published in 1883. In 1888 he received a diploma and decorations of the Legion of Honor with the title “Chevalier du Merite Agricole” for aid to France in viticulture. He became known for his careful botanical classification of North American species of grapes, of which he discovered several himself, and for his hybridization of grapes, of which he produced many hundreds of much merit. He has been elected a member of the leading pomological societies; of the American Academy of Social and Political Science; of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the National Agricultural Association of France. He is the author of “Grace Culture in the South” and “Horticulture in Texas” in the Encyclopedia of American Horticulture; Bulletin 56 on Investigation and Improvement of American Grapes, Texas experimental station (1900); a Monograph of American grapes with natural size color plates of all native species for the department of agriculture (1889); and numerous articles on horticultural subjects published in leading agricultural journals in the United States and France. He has made grapes his specialty, but is also known as a producer of plums and peaches. He is now associate editor of the “Ampelographie,” a work to illustrate and show how to cultivate all kinds of grapes grown in the world and published by P. Viala, inspector general of viticulture, of France. Mr. Munson has contributed the articles on Mission, Concord, Delaware, Catawba and Ives Seedling grapes with color plates for the publication, giving the origin of cultivation and distribution of these varieties. In 1901 Mr. Munson was elected a member of the International Conference of Hybridizers, which met the first time in London, England, in 1904. He was asked to prepare a paper upon a topic of his own choosing and he selected the subject of “Advantages of Conjoint Selection and Hybridization and Limits of Usefulness in Hybridization among Grapes.” This paper was published in the full in the N. Y. Horticultural Society’s Memoirs of 1902, volume I. He is a member of the American Pomological Society, for which he has prepared and read many papers and he is now its first vice president, to which office he was elected in September, 1905. In 1902 there was organized at the Buffalo Exposition a society for the advancement of horticultural science in America and Mr. Munson was elected a member and chosen vice president. The American Plant and Stock Breeders Association was organized at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and Mr. Munson was also elected a member. He sent to the exposition in St. Louis grapes, pears, persimmons and other fruit during the season, exhibiting there over two hundred baskets upon which he received gold medals and diploma. He was appointed by President Francis of the exposition one of the international jurors in the horticultural department of the World’s Fair to award prizes, in which capacity he acted for the first half of September and passed upon thousands of displays of fruits of various kinds sent from Mexico, Canada and all the intervening country.

Unto Mr. and Mrs. Munson have been born seven children. William B., born in Illinois, was married to Miss Nona Cummings, of Austin, Texas, and is associated with his father in the nursery business under the firm style of T. V. Munson & Son, and he also conducts an independent business as proprietor of an extensive floral establishment in Denison, dealing in cut flowers. R. Warder, born in Texas, is treasurer and secretary of the Denison Cotton Mills, Denison; Fern, born in Nebraska, is the wife of A. A. Acheson, of Denison, special inspector and route agent in the post office service in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, with headquarters at Cincinnati and home at Lexington, Kentucky. They have one child, Marcus Alexander. Neva, born in Dension, Texas, is a graduate of the high school of this city and for the last three years has been a teacher in the Peabody public school here. Olita, born in Denison is the wife of C. H. Calvert, assistant ticket agent at the Union depot in Denison. Viala Laussel, a native of Denison, was graduated form the high school here in 1894. Marguerite, born in Denison, is now a student in the public schools.

In politics Mr. Munson is a Jeffersonian Democrat and at the urgent request of his friends stood as a candidate for nomination for the legislature but failed of selection in the Democratic primary by sixty-eight votes. He has, however, always preferred to give his undivided attention to his business affairs. He is not only a successful business man but a scientist, as well, and his labors have been of direct and permanent good to this and other lands. He has broadened knowledge through the papers that he has contributed to horticultural literature and the articles that he has written upon experimental farming have demonstrated by practical effort the possibilities of Texas for the production of as fine fruits as have ever been seen upon the market, and has given to the world some of its best improved varieties in grapes and other fruits. He has certainty promoted progress in large measure in the special field of his activity and his name is today an honored one wherever horticultural pursuits are carried on along scientific lines.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 605-607.