Tower Rock Quarry Exposed

When this aerial photo of Tower Rock was taken April 17, 2011, the river gauge in Cape was at about 43 feet and heading higher. The half-moon bay downstream and to the right of The Rock was a big circular corn field until the Flood of 1993, Gerard Fiehler of the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum said. The flood created a huge scour basin that’s a good 25 or 30 feet deep and several football fields across. Trees that grew along the basin are probably in the Gulf of Mexico today.

Click on any photo to make it larger.

We climbed Tower Rock in 2003

Brother Mark and I climbed to the top of Tower Rock in 2003. When the river stage in Cape is about six or seven feet, it’s possible to walk across to the rocky island. (It’s about 14 feet and falling on Nov. 7, 2011)

BE CAREFUL.  If the water’s more than a few inches deep, it can sweep your feet right our from under you. Missionary Father Marquette, who explored the area by canoe in 1673, said the “savages” believed Tower Rock to be “the demon that devours travelers.”

This view to the south shows the remnants of a quarry that was worked off and on for 135 years until almost all of the rock was exhausted in 1972. At normal river levels, only a little rock, if any sticks out of the water.

Low water uncovers artifacts

Despite the tremendous volume of water that sweeps over the area even in normal times, traces of track and tipple car wheels survive. These wheels could date to the late 1800s, Tower Rock, a book distributed by the Perry County Historical Society, says. The author thinks they may have been buried until the 500-year floor of 1993 uncovered them.

Acme Stone Crusher survives

Tower Rock identifies this rusting metal object as a steam-powered Acme rock crusher. A similar or the same crusher was used across the river in Grand Tower in the mid 1870s.

Steamboat tieup

Not far from the crusher is this dual-ring steamboat tieup. There are several different styles on the jetty, the  oldest dating to the 1830s to 1850s. The quarry was most active from the Civil War through the Great Depression.

Now’s the time to see Tower Rock Quarry

If you’re going to go, go while the weather is nice and the river is low. This opportunity doesn’t come often.

Tower Rock isn’t some place you stop on the way to somewhere else. You have to REALLY want to go there. You start by passing through Altenburg on Missouri Hwy A. (It’s worth stopping at the excellent Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum. In fact, I printed a couple dozen scenic photo books for their gift shop to sell to gauge if there’s a demand for them. They’re going for $14, a steal.)

Might be longest suspension pipeline in world

After going up and down some steep hills, just before you get to what’s left of the German pioneer village Wittenberg (Population: two buildings and three people), you’ll see a small sign off to the right pointing to Perry County 460, a steep and washboarded gravel road. As you drive along that road, you’ll spot what may still be the longest suspension pipeline in the world, that carries gas from Texas to Chicago. Not far from there, the road narrows and you pass through an area of fallen trees. I’ve spotted a momma deer and her two fawns twice on this stretch.

Stop, Look and Listen

Now things get interesting if this is your first trip. You’ll make a sharp 90-degree bend to the left and cross over the BNSF railroad tracks and make an immediate right-hand 90-degree turn paralleling the river. After not seeing any trains at the crossing for years, two have passed on my last two visits: Stop, Look and Listen.

The stretch along the river is narrow and there’s a steep drop-off to the water, but you seldom meet a car. Eventually, you’ll come upon a parking area at the Tower Rock Natural Area, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bussen to the Missouri Conservation Department.

If there are any persimmons left, give them a try. You won’t find any anywhere else that are sweeter.

Shameless Plug: Buy My Book

{Shameless Plug: don’t forget to stop in at the Altenburg Museum to pick up a copy of my Tower Rock book. The museum folks are nice and they’re going to be setting up their Christmas Tree exhibit in the next week or so. It’s worth seeing.]

UPDATE: The Tower Rock book is now out of print.



22 Replies to “Tower Rock Quarry Exposed”

  1. Great photos Ken!! I have been to see Tower Rock, like you when the river is low. It is something to see, and I plan to go back on Sunday if the weather is decent. Keep ‘um coming..Thanks

  2. Ken, LOVE these pics!! My great grandfather may well have used one of those rock crushers. Can a person order a book from the Altenburg Museum via mail or on-line? I want one of these books! I do have a book on the history of Grand Tower written by a man I talked to on the phone a number of years ago when I visited Grand Tower while doing some family research. The nice ladies at the local library called him and let me speak to him. The book is not handy at the moment…I do still have it but where is the question. Many families are documented in his book, but not my family. My great grandfather went blind at an early age due not to the silica but to medical error. Of course there was no lawsuit then like there would be nowadays. And, there was no govt help either, so the family barely survived with my grandfather (from the age of 4) working in the woods with his blind father chopping wood. Tom Yow, my grandfather, had almost no formal education but learned to read and write from my grandmother, Mary Ann Tripp, who was well educated. He saw to it that my father, Raymond W Yow, had the opportunity to get a good education. Grandpa owned and ran a neighborhood grocery store in Cape on North Fountain Street, Yow Grocery. The building burned several years ago but I have several photos. One of the photos was taken inside the store, with grandpa and dad standing behind the counter. I have no idea who took the photo but it looks like it probably was done by a professional. Dad looked to be maybe early twenties, so around the mid-1930’s. Thank you so much Ken for this site and these gorgeous photos!

  3. Great info on Tower Rock. Sorry I haven’t had a chance to see it.Tom was always concerned about the fragile ecosystem along the river and especially north of cape around Neeleys landing. I have picture of the old hotel that was built into the side of the bluff used in the riverboat era I’m sure. Built of brick with duo side entrys to the upper rooms, for Proper women and men travelers, it was finally washed away in the ’93 flood. He also had family buried at Mcclanes chapel.Cemtery cruising was a typical Sunday afternoon outing. Thanks for refreshing memories. Ginny

  4. Shameless plug update:

    I was at the Altenburg Museum today to interview a long-time resident. Director Carla Jordan said she would be happy to mail copies of the Tower Rock: The Demon That Devours Travelers to folks who can’t make it to Altenburg.

    The price is $14 plus postage. (Since she hasn’t mailed any copies yet she’s not sure how much it will run.)

    Here’s the contact information:

    Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum
    P.O. Box 53
    75 Church Street
    Altenburg, Missouri 63732

    Open Daily
    10:00am – 4:00pm



    The first printing was only two dozen, so grab ’em fast. I’m going to add a few pages in the next run to show the low water photos above.

    1. Great picture and information Ken, but I didn’t know that the quarry was that old. I was told that Joe Mueller was the original owner. How did you find that information? Must be something I missed. Also, I have seen the water that low. Wonder if you got pictures of that wall that was in front of the stores on the river front?

        1. Thought I had a copy of that, but can’t find it. I’ll have to look at the copy when I go to the Museum.

  5. As an avid geocacher, I find often learn about interesting places via scrolling the geocaching site for potential cache hunts. There is a cache at Tower Rock rated 4/5 (the highest is 5/5) for difficulty/terrain, and there just aren’t many hard ones like that around. This is definitely on my radar for cool places to check out. Your pics don’t help me resist!

    So far the closest I’ve made it to Tower Rock is about 12 miles away at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the village of Apple Creek, which was formerly Schnurbusch. Have you ever gone to see the grotto there? Lovely.

    1. If I’ve put Tower Rock on your radar, you’ve put the grotto on mine.

      The only time I attempted to look for a geocache was when I was passing through Cairo and saw one listed at Fort Defiance, where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers join at the very tip of Illinois. The only problem was that the rivers were flooding and the cache was under about nine feet of water. I’d rate THAT one at a five out of five on the difficulty stage.

  6. Took my mother to the museum where she purchased your book. The pictures are great. Our family owns a quarry about a mile from Tower Rock. Nature has taken it over

  7. Ken,
    Is there any other place to purchase your book about Tower Rock? Went and walked across yesterday and would love to learn more.

  8. I worked at the very place that made these rock crushers until its closing in 1982. The Acme Road Machinery Co. Frankfort, New York.

  9. These photos and history is awesome! I grew up in Altenburg, right down the street from the Museum. I haven’t seen Tower Rock since I was a little kid . Thanks so much, and I plan to order the book !

  10. My fathers house is the only one standing in whittenburg if you know of tower rock you should know his house. It was the shipyard back years ago and there are 2 man made rock caves on them my dad was also featured in a book and is in the museum in altonburg. His name was Charles David Holley.its such a beautiful place there and ive seen all the things you have pictures of and i too have some of my own climbing tower rock is beautiful but scary.

    1. I’m very familar your house, the caves, the post office, and your dad. I only talked with him twice, but I immediately thought of him as a friend. I wish I had spent more time with him. He was a great natural storyteller. Did you see the two videos I did of him:

      This is the first time I met him. I loved his story of the last train robbery in MO. What’s amazing is that he told that story in one take. I’m glad I had the video camera rolling. I usually don’t do that.

      This, unfortunately, was our last visit.

  11. Dave was awesome! It’s been several years since I have lived in Missouri and the last time I was there, his health was getting pretty bad.

    I met him randomly maybe 10 years ago. He was out in the yard when I was taking some company from alabama to see tower rock.

    He gave us a tour of the museum he used to run on one trip. On another we climbed some of the rocks down the railroad tracks. He has such awesome stories and was such a cool guy.

    I also got the privilege of riding the rope swing that went over the drop off. That was a rush.

    And to the author of this article- great write up! I was just searching to see how high the water was in that area. I live in Alabama again now but Tower Rock was my favorite trip from Cape Giradeau. And I used to love the Dip and Deli until it closed….

  12. We had family friends from California that would go to a reunion or family get together and it seemed like it was on the Illinois side of tower rock. A park like setting. 1962 to 65 maybe?

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