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Grafton City

Grafton City Hall is located at 2118 East Main Street, Grafton, IL 62037; phone: 618-786-3349.

Beginnings [1]

The development of Grafton is inextricably linked to the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, directly through transportation and indirectly through the commerce and industry which the proximity to the rivers (as a source of power and as a means of distribution) supported. In this respect, residential, commercial and industrial, and transportation themes in the city's founding are inseparable. The temporal boundaries of this associated historic context represent the initial land purchase by the city's founder, and the ending of the Civil War.

Despite earlier settlement, the community which is now Grafton did not develop until the early-mid 1830s. Key to Grafton's initial development was James Mason, who became the community's founder. In 1819, a land office was established in Edwardsville, Illinois, with Edward Coles appointed as receiver and James Mason appointed an officer. Coles and Mason boarded together while in Edwardsville, and Coles became one of Mason's numerous prominent connections. Coles was elected as the third Governor of Illinois, serving from 1822 to 1836. Among Mason's other connections was his wife Sarah's brother, Henry Von Phul, one of the most prominent businessmen in St. Louis. Mason's strategic position in the land office gave him an exceptional knowledge of better lands for sale; Mason made extensive entries of land in Bloomington, Quincy, Springfield (which he helped plat for a city), and Edwardsville.

In a plan to assist St. Louis in overtaking its rival Alton in river trade, James Mason purchased the lands where Grafton is located to establish a ferry across the Mississippi which would facilitate trade with St. Louis. In 1832, Mason built four log cabins, and placed his brother Paris Mason in the community to take charge of the first general store and other businesses. James Mason settled in the unnamed community, and initiated operation of a horse-drawn ferry at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, the first ferry at Grafton. Another ferry operated across the Missouri River to provide direct access to St. Louis for the residents of what was then Greene County. (Jersey County was formed from part of Greene County in 1839.) The system of ferries greatly enhanced trade, with St. Louis just twenty miles via this route. Conducting business in St. Louis necessitated only one day's time.

In 1833, James Mason, Dr. Silas Hamilton, and others incorporated the Grafton Manufacturing Company, for the purpose of erecting grist, woolen, and cotton mills and conducting a general mercantile, manufacturing, trading, and shipping business in Grafton. James Mason died on July 5, 1834 at the age of thirty-one; Silas Hamilton died on November 28 of that year. Under the power of attorney from Sarah Mason, widow of James and guardian of their only child Martha Marie Mason, Paris Mason took charge of the Mason enterprises in Grafton. Paris Mason surveyed, platted, and incorporated the city in 1836, with Sarah Mason naming the community Grafton in April 1836 in honor of her husband's birthplace Grafton, Massachusetts. The first sale of lots occurred that year, and was so successful that in 1837 another sale of lots was conducted, with lots selling from $400 to $1,500 each.

The first year of Grafton's incorporation brought a short lived boom to the community. The wharf, later termed the "Old Wharf," was constructed of a raised earthen embankment, four or five feet above the ground level adjacent to the river; a frame pier extended out into the river and was covered with planks. The wharf was the focal point for the shipping business. The earliest construction in the city also included a large limestone two story warehouse and two large frame houses which were erected near the wharf, in addition to a large market house built on the west side of Market Street, between Main and Water streets. The market house was an open structure supported by eight stone piers, and was covered with a gable roof; it was open on all sides so wagons or carts could be driven through for loading and unloading. (In contemporary terms, the location of the warehouse was about two blocks north of the wharf; the wharf was located at the end of the current Maple Street.)

  1. Alice Edwards, Preservation Planner, The URBANA Group, 1993, Historic Resources of Grafton, Illinois, ca. 1830-1943, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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