Visitor's Guide to Brussels, Illinois


Visitors Guide to the
Calhoun County, Illinois

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Calhoun County, like Jo Daviess County in northwest Illinois, is unique in the state in that glaciers didn’t touch it and therefore has a more rugged terrain that is dissected by valleys than the generally flat terrain associated with the rest of Illinois. Calhoun County is also located at the tip of the peninsula formed by the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and is almost completely surrounded by water. Brussels is located near the southern tip of the peninsula on a fertile ridge top with some shallow valley slopes that makes it a suitable site for farming and orchards. German immigrants first settled this small country village in 1822 that were attracted by the fertile land that had an adequate water supply and nearby forests that provided wood for construction and fuel. The lack of any railroads or bridges into Calhoun County has meant that Brussels has always been sparsely populated with a population never reaching greater than several hundred, allowing it to retain the feeling of a small but active agricultural community of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The first settler to the area was John Metz who arrived in 1822 and the first business was a blacksmith shop opened by Joshua Twichell in the same year. The blacksmith shop served the transient lumberjacks who cut wood in this heavily timbered region for shipment to nearby St. Charles and St. Louis. In 1847 Conrad Wittmond opened the Wittmond Trading Post (now the Wittmond Restaurant and Hotel - the oldest continuously operating business in the village, (photo right) to trade for fur and wild hogs. The first church was a Catholic Church constructed in 1847 and five years later Father John Moliter, a Belgium priest, became the first resident priest. Moliter died three months after his arrival and the people of the parish decided to name the village "Brussels" after Moliter’s hometown in Belgium. The oldest surviving church in Brussels is the Italianate styled St. Mary’s on Main Street built in 1863. The town boundaries were established in 1876 and Brussels was incorporated in 1888.

The Brussels Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and consists of 80 contributing structures ranging from commercial buildings and residences to barns, chicken coops and privies. Most of the buildings do not represent any particular architectural style although the Queen Anne, Italianate, and Greek Revival styles are represented. Visitors can stroll down Main and Community Streets and see restored businesses and homes dating back to the 1800's as well as the historic Jail. The Jail (photo left,) a red shed like structure in the center of the village, was originally called "the calaboose", was built about the same time town's boundaries were established and the corrugated iron was added in 1889. It was mostly used to house men overnight for drinking too much beer and is said to have once held 12 men who had to sleep standing up. The last prisoner was held there in 1952 and today the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department handles any disturbances.

The people of Brussels are proud of their German heritage and their sense of community pride, which can be seen by the upkeep of their buildings. The surrounding area features rolling hills, farmland, and orchards. The Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge and Pere Marquette State Park are close by and offer a variety of recreational opportunities to the Brussels area visitor. Unless you are driving in from the north on the Great River Road or use the Joe Page Bridge in Hardin the only way to reach Brussels is to use one the local ferries.

Lewis and Clark
State Historic Site
River Ferries
Sam Vadalabene
Bike Trail
Elsah, Illinois