Baxter's History

History of Baxter's Vineyards

Grapes have been growing in Illinois for over 150 years.  One of the first areas to begin growing grapes was on the banks of the Mississippi in Nauvoo.  By 1880 there were over 600 acres of grapes and 40 wine cellars in Nauvoo, and the town was known for its fine wines.  

The oldest recorded concord grape vineyard in Illinois was planted in 1851 and is located in Nauvoo State Park and the vineyard is still producing fruit.  

Emile Baxter (founder of the Nauvoo Winery) came to Nauvoo in 1855 to join the Icarian commune.  When the colony broke up in 1857, Emile and his wife Annette returned to the East Coast, however the couple soon decided they preferred the rural life in Nauvoo. It was during the return trip to Nauvoo that Emile Baxter purchased his grape cuttings. Learning about grape culture from his Icarian friends, Emile purchased eight acres of land near the present Nauvoo business district and set out grape cuttings.  His three sons, Emile Jr., Tom, and Cecil joined him in the business, known as E. Baxter and Sons, proprietors of the Golden Hills Vineyards.  

The family purchased the Wasserzierher Wine Cellar on east Parley Street in 1880.  This cellar was built in 1863 and was 74 feet long and 22 feet wide. The cellar contained 18 casks made by Louis Milander (Cooper Louie) which ranged in size from 300 gallons to 1,100 gallons.  The press room was added in 1882, and the winery established in 1885.  At that time wine sold for 25 cents a gallon and a barrel brought $12.50!  

In the years 1876, 1877, and 1879 the vineyard and winery business, known as Emile Baxter and Sons, was awarded medals from the Illinois State Board of Agriculture winter meeting.  These medals bear the inscription "Best Wine, any variety, product of Illinois" and "Best Red Wine, product of Illinois."  After Emile's death in 1895, his sons carried on the business under the name of  Baxter Brothers.  About 1902, Emile Jr. left the family business and started his own business raising bees and collecting honey with his wife's family in Hamilton, Illinois.  

Tom and Cecil and their sons continued the Baxter Brothers grape and wine business until Prohibition in 1920.  During this period the grapes were shipped to northern markets and wine making was limited to family consumption.  Over 120 railroad cars of grapes were shipped out of Nauvoo to northern markets each fall. 

By the late 1920's Cecil decided to buy the vineyards from his brother Tom.  He and his three sons, Cecil Jr., Fred K., and Emile (Cap), continued to grow grapes, apples, and pears to ship to markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  The business was known as Gem City Vineland Company.  

In 1936, Gem City Vineland Company obtained a license to manufacture wine as Illinois Bonded Winery #52, and was Illinois' first bonded winery.  Cecil died in 1947 and his sons continued the grape growing & wine making business.  At that time it was the only winery in Illinois.  After the death of Fred and Cap and the retirement of Cecil Jr., the children of Fred and Cap continued to operate the business until 1987.  

In 1987 Fred K. Baxter's grandson Kelly Logan and his wife Brenda took over the family business and changed the name to Baxter's Vineyards. They continue to operate the grape & wine business today along with the apple business.