Welcome to Ferryland

With fall's arrival comes a yen for gourds, the rustle of dried corn stalks, and bucolic spots to admire the changing foliage and soak in the sun's shortened rays. Calhoun and Jersey Counties, located just an hour from downtown St. Louis, make for ideal autumn day trip destinations.

From the moment you pull onto the ferry, roll the windows down and shut off your car engine, your worries are left on the shore; you’re weightless and drifting. There’s nothing to do but take in the views, which are especially beautiful if you’re lucky enough to catch the ferry at sunset. The road ahead calls, but here between the riverbanks, for just a few minutes, time stands still. When the ferry docks, you’re deposited into a world of farm stands, rolling riverside landscapes and roadside eateries.

Divided by the Illinois and the Mississippi Rivers, the two counties are like sisters who have just enough space to appreciate the other’s special qualities but recognize their differences. Calhoun County is the older of the two; established in 1825, she’s a tad shy and enjoys watching the world from her antique wavy glass windows. Surrounded by water on three sides, she’s breathtakingly beautiful and well aware of her unique features. Her five municipalities – Hardin, Kampsville, Batchtown, Brussels and Hamburg – are connected by narrow roads that don’t quite welcome hoards of travelers with wide thoroughfares but reward with vistas that rival Tuscany in the fall. It’s a place to get lost and wander down farmers’ driveways to ask directions. When you finally do reach the end of the road, it likely ends at the water’s edge where you’ll wait for the ferry to take you away.

From Calhoun, the Brussels Ferry introduces you to younger and more energetic Jersey County and her most lively attribute, Grafton. After a tranquil day on the quiet side of river, she can be a bit of a shock but is welcoming nonetheless. She’s vivacious, unapologetic and not ashamed of how much she wants you there. The mile-long stretch along Route 100 pulls you in to eat, sleep or party until there’s no hint of crickets ringing in your ears. But Jersey Co. also knows that it takes more than a party to bring people in, so she takes cues from her older sibling and has her own quiet hamlets, back roads and orchards. You may need to fight some crowds sometimes, but that’s how she likes it.

Brad Hagen, far right, the owner of the The Grafton Oyster Bar, boils up shrimp, corn and crab legs at his Cajun-Creole restaurant, which floats on the Mississippi River in the Grafton marina. Fresh Blue Point oysters can be enjoyed on a bar overlooking the water.
Carmen Troesser

So, to visit only one of these riverside counties is perfectly fine. But by floating back and forth between them, you’ll get to know two areas that are genetically similar but whose personalities differ and complement each other in the best of ways – although they’d never admit it.

close-up of fresh, river-caught fish from Beasley Fish Stand, a Grafton restaurant
Beasley Fish Stand in Grafton serves up fresh, river-caught buffalo fish and catfish.
Carmen Troesser

(This story was reprinted with permission from Sauce Magazine.)

Ethan Mackenberg hunts for freshwater mussels along the Illinois River in Hardin.
Carmen Troesser

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