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From Riverview to the Best View -The Story of Aerie's Resort

Aerie's Resort located in Grafton, Illinois is one of the most popular destinations in the Midwest region due to its offering of “The Best View in the Midwest” and its many attractions. What started out with humble beginnings, has today become an expansion of services that allow visitors to truly enjoy the wonders of the Midwest. But how did Aerie's Resort come to be - what were the events and desires that led to its creation? If you are curious to know more about this then continue reading as we begin to tell the story on how Aerie's Resort has become what it is today.

Aerie’s Resort first started as a quaint winery with rentable cottages. The original restaurant building was a small home that sat on 247 acres on a bluff overlooking Grafton, Illinois and was privately purchased in May of 1998 by current owners, Jeff and Sandy Lorton. In July of that same year, six small cottages were put in and made available for rent with a Lodge opening up in November for large groups interested in overnight stays as well. After living in the main home for a year, and the successes of the property’s first rentals, Jeff and Sandy began a small remodeling project to turn the original house into a restaurant, but not just any restaurant, –a winery with an expansive deck.

Aerie’s Riverview Winery opened up in 2001 and began serving drinks to locals. Around this time, Grafton was finally starting to appear on the map with a few new restaurants and bars popping up. Daryl and Karla Machens were interested in opening a restaurant and they eventually met Jeff Lorton who offered to rent them the new restaurant. They took the offer and, in 2001, Aerie’s Riverview Winery became publicly available for any guest who wanted to come to the top of the bluff to enjoy a drink and an incredible view without having to stay the night.

With the great success of the beverage sales and overnight rentals, Jeff and Sandy decided to take over and so they began managing the restaurant in 2008. It was around this time more renovations were started on the old home to convert it into a bar and restaurant by adding a custom made bar and commercial kitchen. The beginnings of the new Aerie’s Winery was born.

Jeff Lorton was extremely pleased with where things were headed for Aerie’s. However, he thought Grafton was still missing something. The town was growing in popularity and yet it still lacked a thrilling activity that would increase the local tourism. In fact, the state was lacking this activity as well! So Jeff decided to bring the first zipline course in Illinois to Grafton and in May of 2012, Grafton Zipline Adventures was opened to the public and began offering thrilling canopy tours throughout the unique Illinois river bluffs.

The prosperity of the Aerie’s Winery, Grafton zipline, and quick growth of downtown Grafton increased the demand of overnight stays for the Aerie’s Establishment. Jeff and Sandy devised a plan to not only bring more rooms to Aerie’s, but also provide more amenities. After rigorous research, planning, and of course construction, The Terrace at Aerie’s opened in September of 2014. The expansive building was the largest construction project Aerie’s has yet seen. It included 23 hotel style rooms, the largest gift shop in Grafton, and a magnificent entertainment space for events and weddings that can hold up to 300 guests. For the first time ever, Aerie’s was starting to feel like a midwestern resort.

It became very apparent that Aerie’s Resort needed a centralized location for sales and customer service that was easy to access from Grafton’s Main Street. In 2017, Aerie’s Main Office (or Landing) opened at 14 W Main Street to provide an easy place for customers to inquire about Aerie’s Resort while also providing six downtown lodging rooms for guests who would rather be on the river’s edge. This new office also provided an easier way for guests to check in to zipline tours and added overall efficiency to Aerie’s customer operations.

However, this wasn’t all Aerie’s Resort had to offer. Jeff and Sandy had another great idea for the area and in 2019, after the great flood that impacted much of Grafton, the Grafton SkyTour opened to the public. This aerial lift was the rebound Grafton needed after such a devastating flood that practically closed down the town for the whole 2019 summer. The local attraction not only provided a spectacular way to see the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, but also offered a unique way to reach Aerie’s Resort. And most recently, in 2020, another lodging property opened. The DeckHouse added another 11 rooms to Aerie’s downtown room options expanding the accommodation offerings for the resort.

It is truly fascinating to see how far Aerie’s Resort has come in the past 25 or so years. From a quaint winery with rentable cottages to a full service resort with a restaurant, rooms, and unique attractions Aerie’s is the epitome of an American dream for Jeff and Sandy Lorton. The expansion and beginnings only continue as the resort is set to open the first mountain coaster in Illinois in September of 2022. Additional changes included moving the winery to the Terrace to allow seating for more guests and another remodel to the original winery! If you are looking for family fun, adventure, or a simple way to immerse yourself in the beauties of the Midwest then visiting Aerie’s Resort is a must. After all, “The Best View in the Midwest” can only be found here.

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