Sunday, March 26, 2023

The History of Grafton, Illinois, with Personal Photos of my day trip on October 18, 2013.

James Mason was born in Grafton, Massachusetts, in July 1783. He was engaged in trade in the West Indies and worked in New York City as a partner in the wholesale grocery business. He came west, settling in Edwardsville, Illinois, where he invested in real estate.

In August 1818, he married Sarah Von Phul, the sister of a prominent St. Louis businessman. James Mason was licensed to operate a ferry across the Mississippi River at Grafton in 1833. He and his friend, Dr. Silas Hamilton and leading St. Louis businessmen envisioned a town where Grafton is now. In 1833, Mason and his partners were incorporated as the "Grafton Manufacturing Company" to establish grist, woolen, and cotton mills and to do general manufacturing, trading and shipping. Mason and Hamilton died in 1834 before their plans became a reality.

On April 15, 1836, James Mason's Brother Paris, and James Mason's widow, Mrs. Sarah Mason, assumed responsibility for surveying, platting and selling lots and incorporating the town. Mrs. Mason named the settlement Grafton in honor of her husband's birthplace. Paris Mason took charge of the Mason enterprises in Grafton until 1840, James and Sarah Mason's daughter married William H. Allen, and he eventually took over and expanded Mason's interests. His activities included mercantile, produce, flour mills and banking. Allen participated in the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1860 and served as 6th district State Senator in 1871.

According to the Jersey County Democrat, on February 1, 1867, Grafton's business community was comprised of 5 general stores, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 drugstore, 1 wagon shop, 1 butcher shop, 2 shoe shops, 1 harness maker, 1 tin shop, 2 flour/grist mills, 1 watchmaker and silversmith, 1 mill for sawing rock, 3 cooper shops, 2 physicians, but no Hotels.
GODFREY BUILDING - This Greek revival building was erected by Jacob Godfrey in the 1840s of local limestone as a general store. Godfrey was a tailor by trade. He also served as Constable for several terms. In 1858, Godfrey partnered with Henry Eastman to build another general store that served the community with at least 3 other general stores. The Godfrey building was mostly used as a general store but served as the town’s post office for some time.

MASONIC LODGE - The Grafton Stone and Transportation Company built this limestone building with locally quarried stone in 1869. All of the doors latches, hinges, door lintels, desk fixtures, wall sconces, lamp stands and the massive chandeliers were hammered by hand at a forge on the site. The upper story contained “Armory Hall,” a 30’ x 70’ hall used for public purposes. In 1885, the building was purchased by the Grafton Full Moon Masonic Lodge #341. Masonic activities have been held at the site since that time.

BANK - James M. Allen and his son-in-law Edmund A. Pinero established the first bank in Grafton in 1871. They served us as directors with Christopher P. Stafford and Ernst Meysenburg. The bank operated as a private concern until 1873. The door to the vault of their bank can be viewed at the Visitors Center. This building was constructed in 1913 as a bank after the original building that housed a drug store burned. The building constructed by Mr. Meysenburg was considered “fire and burglar proof and modern in every respect.” The building served as Grafton’s Post Office until the mid-1960s.

RUEBEL HOTEL - Michael Ruebel was born in Bavaria in 1834 and came to Grafton in 1863 after serving four months in the army during the Civil War. He worked three years at the cooper’s trade, and then moved to saloon keeping and eventually added the hotel business. In 1884, Ruebel began construction on a three-story brick building with a stone foundation that became the Ruebel Hotel.

It was estimated to cost $7,000 and was the largest hotel in Jersey County. The hotel had 32 rooms and also included a parlor, office, billiard room, store and dining room as well as a large kitchen. The Ruebel family remained in the hotel business for many years. An 1895 advertisement offered a Fourth of July stay for $1.00 to $1.50 in a hotel with all the “Latest Modern Improvements.”

The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1912 and the present structure was built to replace it. The burled walnut bar in the hotel was originally part of the Bavarian Exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and was transported to Grafton by steamboat. The bar was saved when numerous patrons and citizens carried it out of the building during floods. The Hotel has changed hands several times. For many years Charles Amburg, descendent of Michael Ruebel operated it.


Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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