WSU Turf Club to landscape new Spillman Memorial site

Members of WSU’s Turf Club will begin landscaping a site in front of Clark Hall, the new location of the Spillman family marker, on Friday, April 21.

William Jasper Spillman, a member of the faculty of the Washington State Agricultural College and School of Science from 1894 to 1902, was the university’s first wheat breeder. He developed varieties of wheat that were grown in the Pacific Northwest for more than 50 years.

Spillman was credited with independently rediscovering Mendel’s Law of genetics in 1901. In 1902 he left the college and joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There he was instrumental in establishing the national agriculture extension agency and hired the first 400 county agents.

Spillman also is credited with founding the study of farm economics. He wrote the book “Law of Diminishing Returns” in 1924 in anticipation of many of the woes of modern agriculture.

Spillman died in 1931 following an unsuccessful operation. His wife Mattie died in 1935. Their ashes were spread on research plots on the WSU campus where he had conducted his wheat breeding work. An inscribed granite memorial stone was dedicated at that location in 1940.

The stone remained in place from 1940 until the late 1950s when it was removed to make room for the new Johnson Hall construction. The stone was moved to Spillman Farm in 1960 and remained there until this year when it was moved to its present location. The marker is now within 100 feet of its original location.

“Last year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first of Spillman’s wheats being grown on the Palouse,” said Steve Jones, WSU wheat breeder. “We felt that the time was right to bring the stone back to campus so that we can be reminded each day of the fabulous contributions that Professor Spillman made to the campus and the farming community.”

Members of the Turf Club have volunteered to transform a 3,600-square-foot area in front of Clark Hall that is currently concrete and gravel to grass with gravel paths. A planting bed will be created for wheat plants and flowers.

Formal dedication is expected this fall.