Perry County has several towns that once thrived thanks to the Mississippi River, but have since vanished thanks to the river's relentless flooding. Claryville, Belgique, Point Rest, Menfro, Red Rock Landing, Seventy-Six, Star Landing, and Wittenberg are all towns that have either vanished or dwindled to a mere shell of their former selves.
The ghost town of Seventy-Six, located north of Altenburg and Frohna, has been lost to the encroaching river. The town site was acquired by the Conservation Department in 1990. What was once a bustling river landing is now a secluded area featuring a rocky creek, quarries, sinkholes, river overlooks, and armadillos.
Cline's Branch, a boulder-lined creek, runs parallel to the entrance road before emptying into the Mississippi River.
Above the creek, a hiking trail leads past a series of "diggings" where limestone rock was quarried. The rock face stands 10-20 feet above the abandoned quarry sites.
Drill holes can still be seen in the rocks. One outcrop was drilled completely through.
Some of the exposed rocks feature a hodgepodge of fossil fragments. The cylindrical pieces are portions of crinoids, the official Missouri state fossil.
Continuing past the quarries, the hiking trail soon reaches the top of a ridge with plowed fields.
The ridge provides a quality view of the river valley into Illinois.
A line of deep sinkholes straddles the edge of the fields. Some of the sinkholes have formed natural ponds.
In Perry County, with its many cave systems, sinkholes are a dime a dozen. However, Seventy-Six is one of the few places in the county where sinkholes can be explored on public land.
Moss covers the inside of this crevice at the bottom of a sinkhole. This is where I spotted an armadillo
peeking out of the hole just moments earlier.
Very little remains of the original town of Seventy-Six. The entrance road, County Road 437, crosses the railroad tracks and dead-ends at the river. This was once the site of several large buildings.
Many different explanations have been given for the origin of the town's peculiar name. The Ramsay Place Name File says:
Three stories are told concerning the naming of the landing, which was known as Landing Seventy-six. According to one version: "In 1844 there was a great flood. The steamboat captain who had been sent to rescue the people reported that he made seventy-six landings. They also said prior to 1879 various men tried to keep the ferry landing and no one stayed long enough to give it a name, so the old steamboat captain's report was retained in "Landing Seventy-six." Another theory also concerns a steamboat captain (whether the same one or not legend does not reveal), "who had quit swearing and had acquired the habit of exclaiming, 'That beats all 76,' when he was vexed. He used the expression so often at that landing the steamboat men had got in the habit of calling it Seventy-six." Still another theory persists, and it is the most logical one, that the Government River Commision numbered the river landings and this was No. 76 from the head of the navigable waters.
Patricia's Page, a website about the history of Seventy-Six, offers even more explanations:
One story is that it received its name because it was the 76th boat landing after leaving St. Louis. Another is that the first man to land a boat at the location was celebrating his 76th birthday. Still another story is that John Wilkinson, who was to later found the town, sank his boat on the river two miles up from the future town of Seventy-Six, Missouri, after previously making 75 successful landings. Legend has it that Mr. Wilkinson painted a board on the opposite bank "76 LDG," from which the town took its name.
Putting the theories together, it seems most likely that the name was chosen by steamboat captain John Wilkinson, but it's hard to tell exactly what kind of 76 he had in mind.
The land on the opposite side of the river is called Wilkinson's Island. The course of the river shifted after the state lines were drawn, so this "island" is entirely within Missouri.
Wilkinson Island is on the right
The Conservation Department is currently constructing a boat ramp at the Seventy-Six town site. When it is finished, it will be possible to launch a boat from Missouri, cross the river, and land in Missouri on the opposite shore.
[View Google map]
From Cape Girardeau, take I-55 to the Fruitland exit. Then take US 61 north through Fruitland to the turnoff for Route C. Turn right and follow Route C as it snakes through Pocahontas, New Wells, Altenburg, Frohna, and Brazeau. At Brazeau, turn right on Route D (look for the Seventy-Six Conservation Area sign). Follow Route D to where the pavement ends and continue straight ahead on Perry County Road 437 to enter the conservation area.
The trailhead for the main hiking trail is at the second parking area on the left. Be sure to print a copy of the Conservation Department map of the area (PDF format).