Visitor's Guide to Elsah, Illinois


Visitors Guide to
Jersey County, Illinois

"Where Yesterday Meets Today"

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Set in a valley along the Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Elsah is often called the "town that time forgot." Despite its old-fashioned character, Elsah is actually younger than most towns in the region by at least twenty years. Addison Greene became Elsah’s first settler in 1847 when he built a log cabin and a riverboat landing. Greene made his living by chopping and selling firewood to the steamboats plying the Mississippi River. The low ground encountered when you first enter Elsah was the site of the riverboat harbor and a residence at the corner of Elm and LaSalle streets encapsulates Greene’s original cabin.

In 1852 James Semple, a local lawyer, prominent politician, and general during the Black Hawk War, bought the valley from James Paris of Grafton. In 1853 he founded the town and offered free lots to anyone who built houses with stone from his quarry. It is believed that he named Elsah after Aisla Craig, the last outcropping his family saw as they departed Scotland for America. Although Elsah has been described as the "New England of the Midwest," the village is not a New England prototype derived from 18th century colonial styles. Rather the architecture found in Elsah demonstrates 19th century styles and fashions including Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Mansard, Italianate, Salt Box, and Gambrel. Visitors can pick up Elsah: A Historic Guidebook by Charles B. Hosmer, Jr. and Paul O. Williams, which includes the history and details of the principal buildings as well as a suggested walking tour, at the Village of Elsah Museum (open Fridays - Sundays, 1 pm - 4 pm, April - October.) In 1973 the entire town was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Elsah prospered as the main shipping point for the agricultural goods produced by the farmers of Jersey County. The town's importance diminished with the coming of the railroad, later being revitalized when Principia College was established in the 1930's.

Elsah remained a quiet sleepy village until the opening of the Great River Road in 1964. Elsah is not a "museum village" but rather a community whose homes are privately owned and not open to the public. Visitors wishing to visit these homes should check the Calendar for information on the annual house tour in December. Today, Elsah provides visitors with a unique look into America’s past, with its narrow streets, limestone and brick houses, and beautiful gardens. Its autumn colors and close proximity to Bald Eagle watching locations make it a popular destination. Visitors planning on extended stays should ask the two Bed & Breakfasts in town for special seasonal packages. Elsah's location on the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail makes it a popular stop for bikers enjoying the Great River Road in any season.

Sam Vadalabene
Bike Trail
Jacoby Arts Center
Alton, Illinois
Cahokia Mounds
State Historic Site
Pere Marquette
State Park