At one time, St. Charles Flying Service's airport was a training base for World War II pilots during the early 1940s. Today, several vintage WWII aircraft still call the facility home, as does Boeing, which utilizes the grounds to test its own planes for modern-day military operations. Surrounded by aviation benchmarks both past and present, St. Charles Flying Service passes on the gift of flight to students with flight training for single and multiengine aircraft. From light sport to airline transport pilot, the facility's certified instructors help mold the pilots of tomorrow, who may also take advantage of open-enrollment ground courses.
The old mulberry tree at the top of Noboleis Vineyards—the same creature that graces the estate's wine labels—symbolizes the endurance of Robert and Lou Ann Nolan in pursuing their dream to own a vineyard. After purchasing a 74-acre expanse of Augusta farmland in 2005, the Nolans planted their first grapes: chambourcin, traminette, norton, and vignoles. Initial growth indicated high yields, but a late frost in 2007 claimed most of the chambourcin crop. Adversity struck again in 2011, when a tornado tore through part of the vineyards and lifted sections of roof off of the winery.
But between these setbacks, the Nolans built a steady string of accomplishments. Their first vintages claimed multiple awards at the 2010 Missouri Governor's Cup, and what had started as plain farmland grew into an estate encompassing an onsite winery, tasting room, cafe, and wine shop. The Nolans now lead tours and host tastings so that visitors can get an up-close look at how Noboleis's wines—such as the barrel-fermented vidal blanc—are produced without tickling the grapes. The indoor and outdoor grounds also regularly host events that range from weddings to live music performances.
In the pantheon of American explorers, there are few names as revered as Lewis and Clark. After securing the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson needed someone to map out the newly doubled national borders. The two U.S. Army officers were the men for the job. They set out into the great unknown in May of 1804, and except for the one Cracker Barrel they stopped at mid-journey, St. Charles was the last familiar piece of America they knew until their return trip in 1806.
As a testament to their momentous voyage, the Lewis & Clark Boat House & Nature Center houses full-scale replicas of the explorers' boats, half-scale 18th and 19th century buildings, and displays about the Native Americans that Lewis and Clark met along the way. Outside its walls, the museum also gives visitors a glimpse into the ecosystems that the pair explored. Visitors can walk on trails through the woods and wetlands to find herons, deer, and indigenous plants.
In 1914, the spacious Mineral Springs Hotel opened its doors to overnight guests seeking its namesake mineral treatments. Though designed for relaxation, the hotel and spa became the unwitting host of homicides and suicides to mysterious, accidental deaths. These days, in its 100th year, the only people spending the night are attendees of Mineral Springs Haunted Tours' "Haunted Overnights," where brave souls camp out inside the hotel's basement pool, or other areas of the building. As the hours pass, they might detect signs of spirits such as the "Jasmine lady," who took a fatal tumble down the hotel's steps.
Those on the walking and overnight tours scour the hotel with ghost-hunting equipment at the ready before launching into a poolside s?ance and tarot card reading. Besides exploring the hotel, walking tours visit upwards of 10 other haunted Alton locations, including tunnels under the old Enos Sanitarium. In addition to leading paranormal treks, the Mineral Springs team of paranormal investigators teach the tricks of their trade to aspiring ghost hunters at its Paranormal Research Center, where there have been six documented ghost cases. For winter tours, the company even unveils its private collection of over 50 historically-accurate torture devices, whose origins span across the globe from ancient times to present.
Stepping inside Apocalypse Haunted Attraction grants a dark vision of a possible future, in which neither the dead nor the living sleep quietly. This world?ravaged by violence and the dark side of human nature?challenges the bravery and wit of all who enter, save on Saturdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. On such crisp fall afternoons, the Attraction's residents leave the lights on, stepping out of their hiding places not to scare but to hand out candy to trick-or-treating children. The combination of family-friendly entertainment with spine-tingling adult scares has proved successful. The organizers share that success with the community, helping to keep open the YWCA that hosts the scarefest, hosting blood drives for the Red Cross, and giving gainful employment to local zombies.
Legend has it that Mark Twain once called Alton a "dismal little river town," perhaps referencing the area's propensity for disease, disaster, and Civil War?era violence?some of which radiated from a Confederate POW camp. Roughly a century later, another author, Troy Taylor, wrote an entire book about Alton's dark history. He also created Alton Hauntings, a company that hosts walking and bus tours that explore malevolent stories from Alton's past, as well as the supernatural happenings that have been rumored for decades. Guides lead groups to various locations throughout the town, summoning the past through their storytelling.