In the year 1782 there was born a child of parents who had once been somewhat wealthy, but who were then living in poverty at Newark, New Jersey. This child was Nicholas Longworth, the father of grape culture in the United States.
He attempted to learn various trades, at one time being bound to a shoemaker, but finally settled upon the law and began its study, as his circumstances would allow, in his native city. Young Longworth saw that he would have far more chance to rise in the new country west of the Alleghanies than in the over-crowded East. Therefore, when he was of age he emigrated “out west,” stopping at the outskirts of civilization, locating in a small place of 1000 inhabitants called Cincinnati. Here he entered the law office of Judge Burnett, and soon was capable of passing the necessary examination, and was admitted to the bar. His first case was in defense of a certain man who had been arrested for horse-stealing, a very grave offense in that wilderness. This man had no money and about all he possessed in the world that he could call his own was two copper stills. As much as young Longworth needed money he was obliged to accept these as his fee for clearing the man. He tried to turn the stills into money but finally traded them for thirty-three acres of land, which was a barren waste. He had kept his eyes open and felt sure that the possibilities for Cincinnati were very great. He therefore bought land at ten dollars per lot, as fast as his means would allow, and all through the early portion of his life bought real estate until he became recognized as the heaviest real estate owner in Cincinnati.
Years afterward he saw the wisdom of his course,—living to see his ten dollar lots rise to ten thousand dollars each, and the land which he received as his first fee, that was thought to be all but worthless, rise to the value of two million dollars. After following the law for about twenty years he was forced to give up his practice in order to take care of his extensive land interest. He went into the grape growing business, and for some time his efforts were attended with only discouragement, but he had relied on the clippings from foreign vines. He firmly believed that the Ohio valley was naturally adapted to the growth of the grape, and in this enterprise he allowed himself to harbor no thoughts other than of success.
This is a characteristic of any man calculated to succeed. After experimenting with many different varieties, he at last hit upon the Catawba. To encourage the industry he laid out a very large vineyard, gave away great numbers of cuttings, offered a prize for any improvement in the Catawba grape, and proclaimed that he would buy all the wine that could be brought to him from the valley, whether in large or small quantities. The result was that grape growing figured as no small factor in the development of Ohio. He had a wine cellar capable of holding 300,000 bottles, and was worth at his death $15,000,000.
Nicholas Longworth was exceedingly liberal in his own way—selling his lots on easy installments, thereby aiding many to a home. His motto was, “Help those who help themselves,” however, he gave much to those whom no one else would aid. He was personally of inferior appearance; not only this, but nothing pleased him more than a shabby dress, being often mistaken for a beggar. As a benefactor and horticulturist he made his influence to be felt in succeeding generations.