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James Mason had a license to operate a ferry across the Mississippi River at Grafton in the 1830s. A ferry was also established across the Missouri River at what later was known as Musick’s Ferry. This enabled people to get to St. Louis, twenty miles from Grafton. The road from Carrollton (twenty-three miles from Grafton) went through the Otter Creek settlement to Grafton. At Grafton, in 1836, a warf was built, called the “old wharf.” It was a raised embankment of earth, four or five feet above the level of the bottom next to the river. A frame pier extended from that earthwork out into the river to deep water and was covered with plank. The shipping business was carried on by this warf. There were one large stone two-story warehouse and two large frame houses erected near this wharf, and several dwellings and store buildings were erected on this low bottom. A large market house was erected, simply a gable roof structure, supported by eight stone piers, and open on all sides so that wagons or carts could be driven through for loading and unloading. The flood of 1844 destroyed the pier and businesses on the bottom. – from Oscar B. Hamilton, Ed., History of Jersey County Illinois, Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1919. Notes from the text only, not an exact transcription.

Grafton Fish Market
Esther (Vahle) Shaw at Grafton Fish Market, 1947. Photo from Stan Shaw.

Grafton, in the southern part of Greene county, is a thriving town, containing about 500 inhabitants. It is on the north bank of the Mississippi river two miles below the mouth of the Illinois, 24 miles south of Carrollton, 15 miles north west from Alton, and ten miles north of St. Charles in Missouri. The town is situated on an elevated strip of land under the bluffs, and has a good steamboat landing. Several islands in the Mississippi make this point the junction of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, as to navigation.

The county a few miles back is rich, and becoming densely populated. This place must soon become a thoroughfare for traveling from Sangamon county across the Mississippi to St. Charles, and the regions along the Missouri river. It has a post office, several stores and warehouses, and promises to be a place of considerable business. A charter for a railroad from this place through Carrollton to Springfield has been obtained, the company organized, and portion of stock taken. A chartered company is about to erect a splendid hotel. “Sketches of the Cities and Principal Towns in the State of Illinois,” from Illinois in 1837, Published by S. Augustus Mitchell, 1837.


Otter Creek Correspondence

From the Jersey County Democrat, February 1, 1867.

Grafton is situated on the bank of the Mississippi just below the mouth of the Illinois river. It contains at present about one thousand inhabitants. It has been incorporated for several years. The present board of directors being Anti-License there are no doggeries and Grafton is a temperate town. We paid a visit to the pleasant, thriving, little town a few days ago and procured the following items which will surprise the people of Jersey. Grafton contains:

  • Five stores, Dry Goods and Groceries and things usually kept in a country store.
  • Two Blacksmith shops.
  • One Drugstore.
  • One Wagon shop.
  • One Butchershop, meat for sale every day.
  • Two Shoe shops.
  • One Harness maker shop.
  • One Tinshop.
  • One Watch maker and Silversmith.
  • Two Large Flouring Mills.
  • One Large Mill for sawing rock by steam.
  • Three Cooper shops.
  • Two Physicians.
  • Hotel, none.

The great business of Grafton is the stone quarries. These quarries are destined to be the great wealth of Jersey County. Great preparations are being made to work these quarries on an extensive scale. Considering the superior value of the stone, and their easy access to the river, these quarries are the best in the United States. The stone is what is called Magnesian limestone, it does not slack into lime when burned, like the Alton stone, it is a beautiful cream of buff color and makes a most durable and beautiful building. The Lindel and Southern Hotels of St. Louis are built of it.

In the upper quarry on the road from Jerseyville to Grafton, Mr. SHEINE is working about 25 hands getting out dimension rock for building purposes.

In the lower quarry Mr. J. T. SIMMS is getting out stone for the St. Charles bridge company to build a bridge across the Missouri at St. Charles. He works 75 to 100 men.

Mr. FARRINGTON is getting out stone for the St. Louis Dike Co. and the Quincy Bridge Co. He works about 75 men now but expects to have 300 at work in the spring.

The Quincy Bridge Co. have about 60 men at work cutting stone. It is expected to take two years to build the great bridge at Quincy.

Casper STOLLEY is getting out rock for the St. Louis Sewer Co. He has quite a number of men at work now and expects to have 100 more in the spring.

These companies are all at work now building houses and preparing for the accommodation of their hands in the spring.

Frank Miller, 86, Relates Interesting Stories of Grafton

October 20, 1935.

One of the most interesting men in Grafton to talk to is Frank M. Miller, the oldest living man born and raised in Grafton. Next October Mr. Miller will be 87 years old and he tells many interesting stories about that vicinity in years back.

Miller is the son of the late Elbert Miller, one of the pioneer settlers of Jersey County, who settled on Liberty Ridge near the Wolfe Spring in 1850. The ridges were then covered by a large growth of timber and the settlers made their living out of the timber. They worked it up into cord wood and staves and hauled it to the banks of the Illinois River with ox teams. The wood was taken to St. Louis by boatsmen and sold there. Everyone burned wood in those days.

Oxen were used instead of horses in those days. Miller said he had seen many stacks of wild hay that the settlers put up to feed the oxen thorugh the winter. They went to the prairie to buy corn for the oxen.

Miller has seen many deer and packs of wolves running where the new state park is to be near Grafton. He also reports having seen a bear in the hollow when he was a boy.

Miller’s father cleared eight acres of land, made rails and fenced it. He plowed the land with his ox team and planted it in corn. When the corn was cut up in the fall Miller said wild turkeys and quail would tear the shocks down. Miller’s father made him some quail traps and he would catch as many as a hundred quails a day. The quails were dressed and sent by steamboat to St. Louis and Miller’s mother made a feather bed from the quail feathers.

Miller attended subscription schools in log shanties and reports having attended many log rollings.

Sugar camps were numerous in the hollow many years ago. Miller said in the spring all the neighbors would camp out and make maple syrup and sugar. All the trees in Sugar Hollow were large maple trees.

Miller saw three grist mills on Otter Creek. The mills were run by water power. Jesse Dabbs owned a mill at the mouth of Sugar Hollow located where Otter Creek empties into Sugar Creek. Coonie White owned a mill at the mouth of Bear Hollow and farther down was the McDaniels mill. Dams were built to hold the water back until grinding time. A lead trough ran the water onto the wheel to furnish the power for grinding.

One of the interesting stories told by Miller was the killings of people after the Civil War was ended and the soldiers returned from the army. Miller said it was a common occurrence to find a dead man lying at the side of the road or hanging to the limb of a tree. One man was taken from the Grafton civil authorities and taken to the schoolhouse, shot and left lying in the yard. About twenty-five soldiers were in town that night and after the man had been killed the farmers formed a line in front of the schoolhouse and passed around a jug until a gallon of whiskey had been drunk. A few days later Miller said he could have seen another man killed by the side of the road, but did not look. He heard two fatal shots and knew who fired the shots, and also the man who was killed. Miller saw the man’s two sisters cry and tell their brother good bye about an hour before he was shot. The man was left lying at the side of the road until the next day when the body was turned over to his two sisters. About thirteen men were killed during that time. Sometimes the soldiers would go in the night, call men out of their homes and shoot them down in their own yard.

These men were a gang of outlaws who were in sympathy with the Southern States. A man named J.O. Smith was their captain. He was at one time Miller’s school teacher. The men would meet at the Smith house and organize. The soldiers returned home and stopped this practice.

Miller has worked all his life. He engaged in farming and was also a stone quarrier. Fifty years ago Miller worked in the quarry and said at that time two hundred men worked there. He also worked on the river and the railroad.

Miller has had many hair-breath escapes in his life but says, “The Lord is My Shepherd and will be until I Die.”

Life in Methodist Parsonage at Grafton

by Demoy W. Schulz

It was the first week in October 1922. The Annual Conference of the Southern Illinois District was over and Methodist Ministers – including my father, Rev. T. J. Wilson – were moving to the new churches assigned them for the coming year. Our destination was Grafton, Illinois. My father was to serve Gravton, Meadow Branch, Rosedale and Hartford churches.

It was raining – hard! We put up the side-curtains – they were supposed to keep the rain out. They were made of the same leather-like material as the top of our 1921 Chevrolet touring car. The curtains had ising glass windows. They let in light – allowed us to get a glimpse of the scenery as we ‘sped’ by – but most important of all, they gave five pairs of eyes the chance to help Dad drive. The curtains did keep out some rain, but they snapped in place then snapped together. Zippers were yet to be invented. Between each snap was a gap through which rain came. I believe they made sedans – the kind with roll-up windows – in 1921, but the touring car was the cheapest and thus fit my Dad’s pocket book best. I sometimes think it fit him best too – it was the closest thing to the horse and buggy that he was accustomed to. I liked it though, especially in nice weather when we would put the top down – just like a convertible – but it wasn’t a convertible! That was a luxury automobile – they came later. The touring car was a family car. Getting wet wasn’t the biggest worry when it rained. For those of you who don’t remember 1922, there were very few hard-surfaced roads. Most were mud or dust – depending on the weather – and one was almost as bad as the other! Ruts twenty inches deep were not uncommon, and in a dry summer the dust would be just as deep. Luckily most farmers still kept a span of mules around – usually ‘Old Buck’ and ‘Old Jack.’ Those mules could have pulled a tractor-trailer out of a ditch! As for the dust, if we met a car we simply pulled over to the side until the dust settled. Had to – we couldn’t see – or breathe.

We had left early that morning and had but a mere 80 miles to move, but by dark we had just reached Alton. There we were told we best not try to go on to Grafton – the roads were too bad – better spend the night in Alton. I doubt that taking his brood to a hotel ever entered my father’s mind. His new church was responsible for his moving expenses. He would not have wanted to add an extra burden on the church – and for sure he could not have afforded a hotel. Minister’s salaries were meager, plus – like the old country doctor – much of their salary was in the form of meat and potatoes. Mama always served a full table – cash was harder to come by. So-o-o on that cold, rainy, stormy night, we pulled into Rock Springs Park and spent the night – my parents, my sisters (Naomi, Eulah and Beulah) and myself – huddled close for warmth. Early the next morning we left for Grafton. I remember coming down Jersey Hollow Hill. It was much steeper then. Huge trees lined the narrow road, forming a canopy over it. This day the leaves were heavy from rain and hung exceptionally low. It was like driving into a cavern – and who knew what was at the bottom’ I was scared! It turned out OK – Grafton was at the bottom!

The parsonage sat where the Annex sits today, only farther back from the street. We had a side yard – on the east side – and a front yard. In back – not more than six feet from the back door – was one of Grafton’s beautiful old native stone walls. It probably was no more than six feet high. Above that wall was a terrace – maybe ten feet wide – and then another wall. Atop the second wall waw the alley. There was a third wall on the other side of the alley. I know someone lived above that wall, but my world stopped at the top of the second wall. Next door, east of the parsonage was a doctor’s office – Dr. Curry, I believe, or maybe Dr. Hospers. Beyond the doctor’s office was the Brainerd-Miller Store. Over this store was the apartment where my friend Geraldine Corderoy lived with her mother, Esther, I think. The entrance was in back of the store and doctor’s office, up a very long flight of stairs. At the top of those stairs one could go into the apartment, or step out into the alley. That was how I got on top of that second wall – and that is where I loved to be. I felt so superior up there. Of course I could have walked around in front of the church, then up the street on the west side and into the alley, but it never seemed so exciting for some cause or other. Getting to the top of my walls was not the only nice thing about the apartment next door. Geraldine’s mother had a player piano. All of us PKs (preacher’s kids) liked that. She actually allowed us to play it!

Across the street from the Church was where the Harry Pattons lived. Mr. Patton sold patent medicine. I used to think his name and the medicine were spelled the same, and therefore were one and the same. Whether or not he sold his own concoction, or for some drug company, I do not know. I remember that I thought their home was the most beautiful house I have ever seen. It must have been quite new in 1922. The LaMarshes lived in the beautiful old stone house on the corner across from the Church. My sisters, Naomi and Eulah, remember the LaMarsh girls well. Hattie and Eulah were ‘best friends.’ I believe Myrtle was Naomi’s age. Eulah still has a picture she took of Hattie when we lived in Grafton. Eulah spent her first pay check on a little Brownie Kodak. I am glad she did. She took the very earliest picture of me that exists. I was at least eight, maybe nine, years old. But just because they had not had a picture made of me doesn’t mean I wasn’t loved – I was.

Down the street, on the same side, was the LeFaivre drug store. Funny the reason one remembers things. Naomi remembers Violet LeFaivre because she wore her hair in ‘buns’ over her ears. My sister wore hers that way too. It was not a becoming hair-do on Eulah – maybe it was not becoming to Violet either. I remember the LeFaivre drug store because Father Davis used to take me there for ice cream cones. Father always had his pockets full of candy. As though pulled by a powerful magnet, kids wandered to the same side of the street as Father. But I remember Father Davis for another reason. In 1923 my brother Reuel, worked at the Grafton Powder Mill. One day a blast at the mill that was heard for miles, started every able-bodied man – and lots of not so able-bodied – in a run toward the mill. My father left in a run, and on the way met Father Davis, also in a run. The two men of God ran side by side, getting in a few words now and then between gasps for breath. Then a man came up from the mill saying that my brother had not been hurt. Father Davis said, ‘You go back and give Mrs. Wilson the good news. I will go down and see if I can help.’ My father came back, spread the news, then said, ‘You know, that Father Davis is a wonderful man – it’s a shame he doesn’t know better.’ I couldn’t help wondering how my father knew he was right and Father Davis wrong. Maybe it was all those ice cream cones Father bought me. Because it made Dad sound biased, I would never tell that story. Then in 1976 I bought the old Ripley home and moved back to Grafton. Gert Arnold and I were ‘remembering’ one evening. Father Davis was brought up. I told her my story. She laughed’a very hearty laugh – and said, ‘I can hear Father now. He most likely went home and said ‘You know Kate, (his housekeeper) that Rev. Wilson is a fine man. It is a shame he doesn’t know better.’

Only then did I understand!! It was not bias on either man’s part. It was pity, and we all know that pity is akin to love.

Vera Berkemeier has her Vintage Antiques shop in the old LeFaivre drug store building. She and her husband, Ed, live in the beautiful old Eastman home on Main Street. Ed and Louise Baecht and the only two children left at home, Andy and Amy, live in the old LaMarsh home. Both those houses are being cared for by tender loving hands. My world was small in 1922. I do remember that Father Davis kept a cow. He staked her out down by the river. The grass is still green there from being so well fertilized. Things change though. Today our new Methodist minister, Rev. Thomas Vrewer, can’t keep his homing pigeons within the city limits. Of course he has 250 of them – he raises and trains them as a hobby. All of us remember Mildren Dunlope. She visited us a lot. She tells me now that she liked to come to our house because there were so many kids. She was an only child. I have but one unpleasant memory of Grafton. I started the third grade in September, before we moved again in October. Mildred Dunlope thinks my teacher was Mrs. Edith White. I have no idea what her name was, but I remember her – very well!! It was the first day of school and a ‘smart aleck’ boy in back of me threw paper on my desk. I promptly held up my hand. The teacher asked my problem. I told her. She called me a touch-me-not and a tattle-tale! Told me that in the second grade it was alright to tattle, but third graders were big girls and boys! Big girls and boys’ She wasn’t talking about me. An ant would have towered far over my head! Mildred remembers Mrs. White, and with kind memories. Maybe it was a different teacher that I had, or maybe had we not moved I too would have learned to love her too.

Grafton jail

This photo has been identified as the Grafton Jail, but this identification may not be correct. If anyone has information on this building, please let me know. Click here for email address.

Contributed by Marty Crull and his volunteers.

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