by Carrie Paul
As the seasons click and summer fades into fall, the urge to take a scenic drive and soak up Autumn’s foliage and subtle shades of warmth, becomes a little stronger. It is the time of year many people in the Midwest claim to be their “favorite season”. Apple pie, pumpkin spice lattes, and mulled apple cider and wine, all aid in the fun of October enjoyment. I decided to head to Grafton, the oldest city in Jersey County, IL to enjoy a day of nature and soak in the views of the rivers. It also happened to be Oktoberfest and I like a good party!
Grafton is located near the confluence of two great and mighty rivers, the Illinois and the Mississippi. It has long been heralded as a river town, much like my own city of Saint Louis, MO. Legends abound of famous outlaws having stayed there, such as the infamous Jesse James and his Younger Gang, hiding out and wreaking havoc amid the hotels, caves, and caverns near the area. Grafton was first settled around the year 1832 by James Mason and other frontiersman brave enough to take a gamble on a river town prone to flooding. It was named by his wife Sarah in honor of his birthplace Grafton, Massachusetts. In its heyday during the 1800’s Industrial Era, the Grafton riverfront was a bustling place where limestone quarries, mills, boat making, and furniture carpentry must have been a pleasure for the senses and a sight for the eyes to see. Grafton was the “jump off place” for many boat crews en route to other destinations. It was a place to fuel up their steamboats, grab a distilled beverage (or four) and a hot meal, or simply a place to get a quick bit of rest and relaxation before journeying further up or down river. There are six “hollows” which run from Grafton’s Main Street, where the main businesses near the river were located. These hollows are more or less real estate developed today, but there still remains many natural bluffs, trees, and nature parks for people to enjoy. There is much history to brag about in this little river town, and for more information there is a great blog called Wanderingtootsies.blogspot.com which I would recommend for further reading about the area.
Today Grafton is mostly a tourist destination with many fun and family-friendly things to do. A ferry runs from Saint Charles, MO to Grafton and for a small cash fee will ferry cars to the riverfront landing. Pere Marquette State Park, Eckert’s Apple Orchard, Uncle Andie’s Country Market, fresh fish restaurants, wineries, and many walking and biking trails all make this town a destination to put on your list of places to see this fall. If you are a ghost hunter and enjoy haunted history, this place is for you! There are guided ghost tours given between Alton and Grafton that will leave the hairs on your neck standing if you like that sort of thing. Check the Grafton website for COVID regulations and times. Eagle and various other species of bird watching are quite common in the fall and winter months in Grafton, and there is even a new zip lining business located near all the area gift shops and restaurants. I visited the Loading Dock eatery and bar, some of the local gift shops, the antique mall, and a restaurant called 3rd Chute Bar and Grill, and thoroughly enjoyed my time. Make sure you check out the largest flag this side of the Mississippi, the beautiful faux lighthouse, and the many saloons while in the area. So, get that old car out, and “zip” over to Grafton, where fall is in full swing. You will not be disappointed and may even find yourself adding this to your annual places to visit this time of year.
All photos taken by Carrie Paul -2020