Visitor's Guide to Alton, Illinois


Visitors Guide to
Madison County, Illinois

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Located on the Mississippi River just above the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and just below the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, Alton is truly a "river city" rich in history. Founded in 1818 by Col. Rufus Easton, Alton is named after his son. Easton was the first postmaster of St. Louis, a judge, and a land speculator who laid out the town and selected choice lots for his family and friends. The town quickly became a transfer point where deep draft steamboats of the lower Mississippi and the shallow draft steamboats of the upper Mississippi exchanged their cargo.

With its proximity to St. Louis in the slave state of Missouri and with the leadership of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, Alton became a major station of a different sort - the underground railway. Several Alton homes still have underground tunnels and chambers that slaves hid in. Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in 1837 defending his printing press by a pro slavery mob bent on throwing it into the river. A monument to Lovejoy, the tallest in the state of Illinois, can be seen as you drive into Alton across the Clark bridge. In 1858, in a precursor to the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated slavery and State’s Rights in front of a crowd of over 6,000 people and the national press. A square in downtown Alton commemorates this event. During the Civil War Alton was home to a prison housing captured Confederate soldiers. Remnants of this prison can be found in the downtown district and two memorials for prisoners who died during a small pox epidemic can be found in the area.

Alton is the hometown of Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man. A life sized statue of the "Gentle Giant" can be found across the street from the Alton Museum of History and Art on College Avenue. A giant painting of the adopted symbol of the area, the Piasa Bird, can be found on a bluff just north of town along the Great River Road. From here cyclists and hikers will find the start of the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail that travels along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers to Pere Marquette State Park. Across the Clark Bridge into Missouri is the small agricultural community of West Alton, home to the Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. In addition to summer fruit and vegetable stands in the area, there are churches, convenience stores, a small park, several nearby private marinas, and the West Alton Bike Trail.

The main business district of Alton fronts the Mississippi River and many of the nearby streets are still paved with brick, a natural setting for the many mid-19th century buildings and Victorian homes still standing as a reminder of Alton’s historical contributions. A variety of specialty and antique shops can be found in the downtown district and throughout Alton. Whatever your interests, a visit to the Alton area is worth the trip.

Lewis and Clark
State Historic Site
River Ferries
Sam Vadalabene
Bike Trail
Elsah, Illinois