After receiving a 2018 Eagle Watcher’s Guide in the mail from the Visit Alton CVB, I was hooked and had to go. We headed to Grafton, an area we love. Somewhere, perhaps in one of the guides I read that when the officials that be started constructing the Grafton Waterfront that they wanted it to be the Key West of the Midwest. While I don’t know if that is an apt description, with the wine, the water and the fun atmosphere it hooks you in like a fish on a line. My brother-in-law is almost a part-time resident of the area. He and my sister-in-law camp near there a lot, so we called on him for ideas on where to eat and where to go.
After much discussion and thought, we decided to head to the historic Ruebel Hotel/restaurant for lunch. The lovely curved bar, according to the owner is a keepsake from the 1904 World’s Fair, so I was already glad we came even before the freshly made chili and shared cheeseburger that my husband Keith and I enjoyed.
Grafton was founded by James Mason and is the oldest city in Jersey County, Illinois. At one time, the river town boasted a population of around 10,000 people that needed a place to stay. The Reubel Hotel History originally built in 1870 boasted 32 rooms and had a bath house in back. A young girl that, if I recall had tuberculosis, passed during a river stop. She is Abagail and they say she still haunts the hotel.
We didn’t dawdle because we were on a mission to see the Birds of Winter as deemed in the guidebook, the fascinating Bald Eagle. Our first few stops we could see a dot soaring or sitting, but couldn’t make anything really out. Perhaps because we had forgotten the all important binoculars! We headed on to the Grafton Visitors Center and Museum where the woman in charge kindly shared binoculars and pointed out some of the Bald Eagles sitting on ice chunks in the Mighty Mississippi waiting for a fish to come along. The eagles were wintering along with the Trumpeter Swans, which are the largest waterfowl in North America with a wing span that may exceed 10 feet. These birds spend their days in this area from November through February.
I was hoping to see an Eagle nest, but that didn’t happen. I would think it would be hard to miss because they say that they build the largest tree nests of any animal species. The Eagle Watching guide offers several Hot Spots for viewing Eagles. While the Grafton Visitors Center didn’t make the list, it was just perfect for us.
Besides being a visitor’s center, the small museum had a few very interesting items especially two distinct water crafts. One being what they referred to as a punt boat and punt gun. They had a replica of the punt boat built by Richard Mosby in 1859, the boat was filled with a huge gun that was used by market hunters to shoot large numbers of waterfowl for sale. First the birds were hunted for food then later for women’s hats. I remember an exhibit in St. Louis with art and hats that shared how many birds were killed for the huge Paris hat industry. The gun was so big that it was amazing to think it wouldn’t obliterate any feathers on the bird!
The other boat was a race boat with a front shaped like a semi circle. The boat washed up after a flood and they restored it. Quite fascinating.
After our tour, we headed to the town of Elsah. The entire town is on the National Historic Register and is quite picturesque. Between Alton and Grafton, the owner of the General Store, (one of the only buildings open when we were in town) said they refer to Elsah as, “town that time forgot.”
First established by Addison Greene in 1847, this riverboat harbor town was sold to James Semple in 1852 and in1853 he founded the town and offered free lots to anyone who built houses with stone from his quarry. It is easy to see the mark of the quarry rock on house after house. The town flourished during the 18th century as the place to ship agricultural goods, then had a resurgence when Principia College was established in the 1930’s. A great stop for a historic view back in-time.
Having full stomachs, and achieving our goal of seeing Eagles, we headed back home through the beautiful countryside after a pristine winter warm up day that soothed our January soul. For more information about eagle watching another blogger has a great read https://midwestwanderer.com/alton-eagle-watching.