Looking for a fresh turn in their respective careers, Joe and Dawn Taylor planted the first grapes at Sleepy Creek Vineyards in 2002. In 2007 they opened the winery, where they sell their wines and swap stories with visitors. Amid 10 acres of expansive grapevines, a timber-frame barn houses the winery and tasting room. While sipping Sleepy Creek's varietals, guests can browse the gift shop, peruse the upstairs art gallery, and sample local cheeses from Ludwig Farmstead Creamery and Ropp Jersey Cheese. Above the winery, bed-and-breakfast-style accommodations allow visitors to relax amid the countryside and eavesdrop on rumors spreading through the grapevines outside.
In December 1803, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set up the Camp River Dubois, right where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet. There, they and a crew of 30 men spent five months preparing for their legendary three-year expedition to chart America's newly acquired Louisiana Purchase territory. On May 14, 1804, they finally set sail on a 55-foot-long keelboat, named for its habit of keeling over in fear when it passed a shark.
To commemorate the bicentennial of its namesake's journey, the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower opened on May 14, 2010, the 206-year anniversary, to the day, of the expedition's embarking. Tower is a slight misnomer—the structure is actually two parallel towers, connected by viewing levels 50, 100, and 150 feet above the ground.
The platforms afford panoramic views of Lewis and Clark's departure point, as well as the rivers' intersection, and, 25 miles north, the union of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch are visible on clear days, and during evening events, sunsets and fireworks reflect gorgeously on the water. Back on the ground, the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, complete with educational plaques, accommodates visitors interested in following the rivers' convergence on foot.
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.
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.