Visitors Guide to
Grand Tower
Jackson County, Illinois


Grand Tower is a small community located on the banks of the Mississippi River just across from Tower Rock from which it gets its name. Tower Rock is a small landmark limestone island carved by the Mississippi River. The earliest European mention of this island is by French explorer Jacques Marquette who passed by the formation in 1673. The earliest inhabitants were a band of river pirates, who settled here after being driven off of Spanish soil west of the Mississippi River. This outlaw settlement was destroyed by the United States Army dragoons in 1803. On November 25, 1803 the Lewis and Clark Discovery Expedition passed by Tower Rock. A marker erected by the Illinois Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission can be found along the Grand Tower riverfront.

Early names for Grand Tower included  La Tour ("The Tower"), Jenkins Landing, Cochran's Woodyard Landing, and Evans' Landing. The town is partially built on an unusual limestone ridge that runs for about one-half mile along the eastern shore of the Mississippi River called the Devil's Backbone. In the late 1800s an iron foundry was built on the hillside on Devil’s Backbone. A two-story house of the superintendant of furnaces stood nearby. The house is gone today but the legend has it that the superintendant’s daughter haunts the site. Devil's Backbone Park is located at the northern edge of the community of Grand Tower. It offers RV camping, playgrounds, picnic facilities, and a shower house. Visitors interested in the history can visit the Mississippi River Museum and Interpretive Center. The museum is housed in an 1892 building overlooking the levee on Front Street. Exhibits in the new museum include steamboat models, buoys, carbon arc searchlight, radar unit, deck equipment, gauges, rudder, dishes, etc. Of special interest are artifacts salvaged from the Steamboat Golden Eagle, which sank at Grand Tower in 1947.

  The Lewis and Clark Connection
On November 25, 1803 Lewis and Clark “Arrived at the Grand Tower a little before sunset, passed above it and came too on the Lard. shore for the night.” The next day Lewis described Tower Rock made of “limestone & the same quality of the clifts heretofore described” and that there were “strong courants thus meeting each other form an immence and dangerous whirlpool which no boat dare approach in that state of the water…”
Visit our special Lewis and Clark Section to learn more about the Corps of Discovery’s experience during their stay in the Middle Mississippi River Valley.’s special coverage includes information on all of the region’s sites and events as well as supplemental articles relating to the expedition’s experience during the winter of 1803-04.
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