Nov 18, 2014

Exploring Eldred – Kathy’s Corner and Thirsty’s Tavern

(Editor's note:  Thirsty's Tavern recently changed names and is now known as Tucker's Pub.  Rest assured, it's still in its great location in downtown Eldred.)

Consider this post a prologue to my previous entry about last months’ trip to Grafton, Ill., since before we made it to our destination, my girlfriend and I got the itch to add some small town, off-the-beaten-path bar hopping to the day’s festivities.  And you don’t get much more off the beaten path than Eldred, Ill., a small farm community in rural Greene County that also serves as a pit stop for seasonal hunters and bikers.

Eldred isn't quite as old as the hills it’s nestled against, but it may seem like it when you first visit.  People have lived at this village’s location in the Illinois River bottom beside the bluffs for nearly 200 years.  It also happens to be on the south end of the lightly traveled Hillview-Eldred Road, which is one of my favorite fall drives in Illinois because the road nestles along the bluffs for miles and miles with barely a trace of civilization around you.  Yes, you could say we took the scenic route to Grafton, and that involved a couple of stops in Eldred. 

The first was at Kathy’s Corner, appropriately named for being at the corner of Hillview Road and Illinois Highway 108.  If you take 108 a few miles west, you’ll be treated to a nice ferry ride across the Illinois River into the sleepy river town of Kampsville, but that’s another adventure for another time, especially since my girlfriend has a slight aversion to ferries and old bridges. 

Standing on a corner in ... Eldred, Ill.

Nov 10, 2014

Gallivanting through Grafton

Not long ago, Grafton, Ill., wasn't much more than a sleepy river town that just happens to be perfectly positioned where the Illinois River runs into the Mississippi River.  In fact, the Great Flood of 1993 almost washed Grafton off the map.  Even now, the official population stands at 675 people, according to the last U.S. Census. 

But since then, the tourists have been showing up in ever-increasing numbers.  Grafton had always had a devoted following among bird watchers due to its proximity to a bald eagle nesting area.  Pere Marquette State Park and its lodge have also attracted visitors for a long time.  But then wineries came, followed by the art galleries, specialty stores and other tourist traps.  Now, you can even zipline, parasail or hit a water park (summer only, of course).  

Still, Grafton retains much of its original small river town charm.  So, a few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were among the hundreds of tourists to descend on Grafton and take advantage of the last blast of warm weather this fall.

The first place we found after parking our car in one of the public lots along the river was the Piasa Winery and Pub, which takes its name from a mythical bird that was believed to inhabit the bluffs nearby.

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...