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Rural Missouri Magazine

A rock of ages
Tower Rock, Wittenburg

by Jarrett Medlin

The great rock is difficult to find but hard to miss. To reach the landmark by land, you must travel along miles of narrow roads in rural Perry County before coming to a gravel stretch that hugs the Mississippi River. Then, as you round a bend, it suddenly comes into view — Tower Rock, Grand Tower Roc or La Roche de la Croix.

The limestone island rises 90 feet above the mighty river and instantly captures the imagination of visitors, as it has for centuries.

American Indians once believed the rock housed a “manitou,” a demon that devoured visitors and passing boats. Explorer Pere Jacques Marquette later discovered there was no evil spirit, but rather a dangerous eddy between the rock and the shore that roars during high water. In 1803, explorers Lewis and Clark noted rivermen who passed the rock would celebrate in a way similar to sailors crossing the equator, by raising a drink.

Even today, new legends persist about the island. Some say the rock is the nation’s smallest national park, a rumor started by “Believe It or Not” author Robert Ripley. Others believe the island is a Lutheran “Plymouth Rock” for followers of Martin Stephan, though there’s no such record. Finally, there is the question of ownership. Perry County, the state of Missouri and the federal government have all asserted claims at one time.

History and legend withstanding, Tower Rock is an impressive sight. To see it for yourself, take Highway 61 to Highway A and head east. Keep going past Wittenburg and look for a small sign that reads “Tower Rock.”

 

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