Inside St. Louis

Diamond Mineral Springs

An original water color of Diamond Mineral Springs by local artist Marilynne Bradley.

Diamond Mineral Springs



     In the bucolic setting of Grant Fork, Illinois, the legendary Diamond Mineral Springs and The Back Porch, the Spring’s adjacent complementary dining and drinking establishment, rest in the tranquility of far away times in a location that  seems far away in distance; but really isn’t. We are blessed with well over 3,000 eating establishments in the Greater St. Louis region, but none can match the combination of 19th century history, family style dining, gourmet cuisine and libations of any type that are available at this idyllic location.

     These are two truly distinctive dining places as you’ll quickly discover on arrival and both for various reasons are worthy of your culinary consideration. But before our vicarious foray into the today of the Diamond Mineral Springs and The Back Porch we’d be most remiss without examining the history of how they came into existence. We’ll set our Johnny Rabbitt time machine to the 1830s and move forward in time from that point. It was then that this location was known as Fitz James Crossing which was a stagecoach stop, and yes, there were still a few Indians in the area. In 1837 the crossing was laid out as Fitz-James Village in the area known as part of the Looking Glass Prairie. The stage ran between Vandalia, then the capitol of Illinois, to Pocahontas and St. Louis. The acreage where the Diamond Mineral Springs was to be erected was in 1836 owned by Benjamin Rimmer and at the time the property was noted for a large cave entrance, which may still be there. In 1840 on this parcel of property, one John Duncan opened a store and public-house called the “Fitz-James Hotel by John Duncan.” 

     Around 1870 the tiny, sleepy village was renamed Saline Township, but in 1872 the U. S. Post Office decreed that since there was already a Saline in the state the name would need to be changed. After some consideration it was decided that since Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States at the time and that the property in question was in the fork of Silver Creek and Stony Branch, the name should become Grantfork and so it did on the 1st of July of 1872 though other records indicate the name change wasn’t official until 1917. You might want to research some old postmarks to ascertain the correct date of the name change. 

     In 1862 Steven Bardill, who, with his parents and brother, had come to this place from Switzerland in 1840, eventually, after operating other businesses, opened a stone quarry and lime kiln and at the quarry discovered a spring of health giving mineral water - or if you prefer - another version of the story is that when Bardill was prospecting for coal he struck a spring of water that had a high standard of mineral properties including bi-carbonate of soda, chloride of sodium, magnesia, iron and lime.. Either way he quickly developed the area with the name Diamond Mineral Springs. Bardill would sell out to Anton Kraft in 1891 and he would put up a first-class 30 room inn which he named the Windsor Hotel. Kraft was acclaimed for his cordiality, hospitality and attention to detail while the hotel itself offered fresh air, tranquil views, hot and cold mineral baths and a fine restaurant that specialized in fresh fried-chicken dinners which are made the same old-fashioned way today at the Diamond Mineral Springs.  He also developed the grounds as Windsor Park and Windsor Lake, and built a dance and recreational hall, which also offered billiards. Part of this building is home of today’s Back Porch. He operated these two entities as a summer resort and health spa far away from the noise, pollution, crush of crowds, commercialism, smells and hub-hub of St. Louis. At a time when St. Louis justifiably boasted it was the 4th most populated city in the U.S, Grantfork was home to about 150 people. By this time the reputation of the “Springs” made it the leading public landmark in this part of Madison County.  

     Alvin and Arthur, the sons of Anton Kraft took over the Diamond Mineral Springs promoting the place with advertisements such as one from before World War II that offered all you can eat chicken dinners for $1 with a chicken plate for half a buck. They also ran dances on Saturday and Sunday and plugged that the “Springs” mineral baths were good for rheumatism and that drinking the pungent waters had medicinal and curative properties to fight skin diseases and afford relief from stomach troubles.  Alvin and his wife Ada passed the facility on in 1954 to Milton and Norma Hanser who in 1970 turned it over to their daughter Judy Lanser Landholt. Then in ’79 she’d sell the venerable operation to current owner Brad Michael. 

     For those intrigued with the rich history of the Grantfork area you should consider delving into the life and times of the wealthy Solomon Hinckley Mudge. He came here from Portland, Maine, by way of St. Louis in 1836, and established a several hundred acre estate and summer home near Silver Creek settlement. He named it Oakdale and this great estate, five generations later, is still in the Mudge family. Those who have an interest in the past can access a fine collection of well written and documented historical articles through the Highland News Leader newspaper. These were written by the prolific chronicler Roland Harris and are under the title:  “A Thought To Remember.” A great deal of the material in this Inside St. Louis article was extracted from nearly three dozen of his articles. There’s also an excellent history on the Diamond Mineral Springs website: I’ve never actually measured the pies, but if they’re not exactly a foot high they’re darn close to it. And are they ever good. Better than good!     

     Over the years countless dances were given at the Diamond Mineral Springs with music provided by myriad groups not the least of which was The Happy Acres orchestra made up of Chester “Sonny” Wildhaber, Gus Bode, Pete Brimbau and Clarence Bargetzi. Who knows how many picnics were held there, how many mineral baths were taken, how many sailed the Windsor Lake, how much ice was cut from that lake, how many dinners and drinks were served and how many romances began? The dinners, drinks and romances continue today. 

     Like Morganford Road in St. Louis, or is it Morgan Ford? The place in which the Diamond Mineral Springs and Back Porch is located is at times, as in the previously mentioned articles of Roland Harris, noted as Grantfork, but in a good number of other places it’s written as Grant Fork. Either way you’ll find it at 1 West Pocahontas Road north of Highland. From St. Louis take 70 E to Exit 21 which is Ill. Rte. 4 where you go left, then in a third of a mile go right onto Ill. 143 for 1.3 miles. Next turn left on N. Duncan St. which you’ll take for just half a mile, then right on Grantfork/Pocahontas Rd for six and a half miles. The Diamond Mineral Springs/Back Porch will be on the left where you’ll find a large paved and clearly striped parking lot surrounded by the restaurants’ classic frame structures and acres of trees. The springs still exist far underground but are no longer utilized for bathing or drinking, but who’s to say what the future might bring.   

     On my show, Johnny Rabbitt’s Route 66 on KMOX, we play the great hits of the 1950s and 1960s and talk about memories and traveling back in time with music. At the Diamond Mineral Springs and The Back Porch you really are almost livin’ in the past as these fine adjoining, yet greatly different in atmosphere dining rooms, whisk you away to a simpler and more relaxed period with food that is superior in quality and presentation to many of the top “big city” establishments. For down-home fare we suggest a leisurely visit to the Diamond Mineral Springs where family style old-fashioned fried chicken dinners, made the way Grandma used to make ‘em, rules the roost. This is good eatin’ and you’d best come with a big, big really big appetite. Plus you’ll enjoy the casual old time atmosphere with a color scheme of green and white, polished wood floor, high ceilings and photos and memorabilia of yesteryear. I’m telling you true. It really is like a visit to the past and the ambiance is friendly and casual; like a family dinner at home. And there’s no big screen TV to get in the way of the conversation around the dining table.  

     You can order your crispy, crunchy chicken the way you like it by choosing all white meat (our favorite), all dark, or mixed. The breading consists of just flour, salt and pepper - it’s served piping hot and it’s not greasy. I’d imagine the chicken is just as tasty as it was when the Diamond Mineral Springs started serving it almost 109 years ago. That’s when people came by horse and buggy and as they might have said, it was a far piece from St. Louis, so more than likely many of the folks who took that trek may well have spent the night, so to breathe the country air and enjoy the refreshing, purifying mineral waters on and in their body. The hotel rooms are gone, doggone it, ‘cause you just might feel like taking a nap after putting away the family feast spread out before you on the green and whites checked tablecloth. With all dinners, you get tangy pickled beets, the crunchiest cole slaw ever, apple sauce, warm freshly made biscuits with apple butter, mashed potatoes that didn’t come from a box, wonderful milk gravy and green beans with ham (which I’d imagine in the old days would have been green beans with sow belly).

     And save some tummy space for a slice of their deservedly legendary pies or cakes. They tout their frothy meringue versions as being foot high pies, and even though I didn’t bring a ruler, I think they’ll measure up; and the crust is fresh and flaky. You’ll for sure clean your plate. On our last jaunt we respectively had the banana cream and coconut cream. Next time it’s the chocolate cream for me. There was also lemon with their cloud-like meringue, blackberry, peach and cherry pie plus some good lookin’ cheesecakes…all made from scratch. Our dinner was akin to the hearty farm food you’d see in a classic movie – home-made by folks who know how to cook and love doing it. 

     The Diamond Mineral Springs also has a solid menu of stick you your ribs specialties such as chicken and dumplings with generous portions of white meat chicken and made right there dumplin’s in a rich creamy sauce. Also on the list posted on the wall there’s perfect fresh fried frog legs plus baked chicken, roast turkey or roast pork and dressing – you’ll ask for an extra helping of that dressing. Other fare includes French fried shrimp, ho-made pork sausage, rich country ham steak, whole meaty catfish, baked Boston scrod, fried walleye fillets, New York strip steak, barbeque ribs and pork steaks. This is home cookin’ the way it’s not done at home anymore. And, as at the next door Back Porch, there’s a full bar ready to wet your whistle. 

     If you’re a fish fan the Diamond Mineral Springs is now serving an all you can eat seafood buffet (they’ll lose money on me) every Friday from 5 to 9. It’s $17.95 for big people and for the little ones, 6 to 12, it’s $7.95. They serve crab legs, salmon, shrimp, walleye, frog legs plus baked ham, roast turkey, pork tenderloin, roast top sirloin, plus pastas, vegetables, cheeses, fruits and homemade soup. You can’t beat this feast. The Diamond Mineral Springs also offers a family “To Go” special every day, in which for $18.95 you take home, your choice: 12 pieces of mixed fried chicken, 3 pounds of Bar B Q ribs, 3 pounds of walleye, a quart of real mashed potatoes, milk gravy, 4 gizzards, quart of green beans, pint of beets, pint of slaw, 4 buttermilk biscuits with Chris’ apple butter and 2 pieces of Foot-Hi pie, and it’s all very nicely packaged. Just call ahead and they’ll get it ready for you. 

     DMS is open ALL holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter. And when there’s some snow on the ground this area looks like a scene painted by Grandma Moses or Norman Rockwell. And they do take reservations for either place for any day, which is a wise decision. Just call (618) 675-2655. There are several ways to get there depending on where you’re coming from, and their customers really come from everywhere, but an easy way to remember is take Illinois Route 160 north from Highland and you’ll be there in a quick six miles.    

     The Back Porch at the Diamond Mineral Springs started out a few years back as a place where Brad Michael prepared barbecue on charcoal grills. It gradually evolved into the fine dining destination it is today. The Porch is a glorified, roomy white and green themed “back porch” reminiscent of some of the “open” restaurants of places like Maui, Fort Meyers or Key West. Complete with “palm trees” encircled with twinkling lights. This screened in room is nestled in a grove of greenery that along with the country evening air and an assist  from slowly spinning ceiling fans keeps thing s cool all Summer. In the Spring and Fall the screens are covered and the Back Porch remains a pleasant oasis. 

     For the uninitiated the Back Porch menu comes as a surprise at it’s both extensive and most reminiscent of some of the finer eateries in St. Louis or Chicago while you’re way out in the country being served in a relaxed and charming environment of a time gone by. You might opt for the grilled pork chops for $15.95 which gets you two 8 ounce chops served with rice dressing topped with tomato-burgundy mushroom sauce. There’s roasted Florida grouper, finished with basil, garlic and tomato for $20.95 and Sam’s pepperloin steak which is a tender filet marinated in cracked pepper, olive oil and secret spices. You could also select from other steaks including a Delmonico or Cowboy steak or prime rib of Angus beef. There are 7 appetizers of which a favorite is the Onion Burst. This is a Vidalia onion, French fried and served with a honey mustard sauce. Or you might consider the Portobello mushrooms stuffed with crab, shrimp and parmesan cheese or maybe the Coconut Fried Shrimp with sweet and sour pepper jam. Appetizer pricing runs from $7.95 to $9.95.  

     Salads includes traditional Caesar, the Wedge, tomato-anchovy and the Back Porch salad which is a mix of red leaf, Romaine and iceberg lettuce tossed with pimiento, artichoke hearts, Bermuda onions, provel cheese and Volpi salami served with the house red wine vinaigrette. Prices range from $3.95 to $8.95. They offer BBQ St. Louis style ribs, pork filet tenderloin, half chicken and prime rib served with a home-made jalapeno, sweet sauce. These run between $14.95 and $22.95. Among other tantalizing items on the menu is a truly tasty lobster stuffed chicken chardonnay topped with a white cream sauce, Australian lobster tails and Bob Hardy’s marinated salmon filet finished with a bourbon, brown sugar and ginger marinade. The late Bob Hardy, who was for many years news director of KMOX Radio, lived just down the road from the Diamond Mineral Springs and Back Porch and he was a regular at these fine places. Above the bar in the Diamond Mineral Springs building is a taxidermy fish Bob caught with photographic evidence of that catch on another wall along with many other photos of the well known and famous who found their way to Grantfork. Oh, there’s also a Back porch Sunday night special of a 5 ounce filet and 5 ounce Lobster tail with baked sweet or Idaho potato and that great Back porch salad for $19.95. Plus each Sunday a very talented lady named Diana Starr plays and sings at the piano bar. You might want to take home a copy of her CD “Living For Your Love” which contains 11 well produced love songs all written by Diana. A night at the Back Porch will be a night to remember and well worth the ride.





     Diamond Mineral Springs is located in Grantfork, Illinois.  Click here for directions.

Click here for an image gallery of Diamond Mineral Springs


Written by: Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz of KMOX and Channel  5’s Show Me St. Louis.


Contact Information

Diamond Mineral Springs & The Back Porch

1 West Pocahontas Road
Highland (Grantfork), Illinois 62246
(618) 675-2655

Hours of Operation

Diamond Mineral Springs

Wednesday - Saturday 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Sunday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

The Back Porch

Friday, Saturday & Sunday 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.

April thru September, weather permitting

 All items available for carry out

Easy access for all

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