131st Bomb Wing – Missouri ANG Community
Jersey County’s base has been solidly agricultural since its birth, but at a little over 50 miles from St. Louis it’s within striking range of big city employment and entertainment: hence, the county’s slogan, “Near the crowd, but not in it.” Early settlers, mostly from New Jersey, named the county in a burst of nostalgia at its founding in 1839.
The Romanesque Revival stone and brick courthouse in Jerseyville, the county seat, has drawn praise since its completion in 1893 and it figures on the National Register of Historic Places. Jerseyville was a transit point on the Underground Railroad, and some of the old homes still have the secret basement rooms that hid fleeing slaves. A big Monsanto complex just south of town has kept Jerseyville at the forefront of biotechnology, first with tomatoes, then soybeans, then corn. Jerseyville’s 8,469 residents have six city parks, an outdoor pool, a family lake with fishing, a senior center, athletic fields, a civic complex with a gym and batting cages at their disposal for recreation.
Grafton, population 654, is the oldest town in Jersey County, its post office, store, tavern and resident families organized behind entrepreneur James Mason in 1832. It could be considered built on rock by rock: For many, many years limestone quarries were its economic foundation, though they now have been succeeded by tourism. High waters from the nearby Mississippi and Illinois rivers rolled over Grafton in 1993 and essentially destroyed it, a dark time remembered as the Great Flood, but the town has fought to rebuild. As frost returns each fall, so do bald eagles to overwinter, pulling in birdwatchers; earlier, fans of colorful fall foliage arrive by the busload. Bicyclists peddling the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail also are assured of a warm welcome, and Pere Marquette State Park, the state’s biggest and most popular, is only 5 miles west of town.