to Madison County, Illinois
"Where the Great Rivers Meet"
Madison County anchors the
southern end of the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway area, which was
awarded the designation by the National Scenic Byways Program in 1998. The
program is intended to recognize highways that are outstanding examples of
scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archaeological, and/or natural
qualities. The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway area met the necessary
criteria in all six categories.
The most striking feature
of the region is the limestone bluffs that border the Great River Road. The
bluffs are a result of the Mississippi carving its channel for millennia and are
topped with 40-feet thick layer of loess that supports the native vegetation.
Bikers and hikers can enjoy this feature utilizing the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail
that parallels two rivers for 20 miles from Alton to Pere Marquette State Park.
Humans have been living in
the region as far back as 8000 B.C.E. Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site of
human civilization before the arrival of European Settlers. An interpretative
center, tours and events help visitors explore the giant earthen mounds and
fascinating culture and remains of a prehistoric Native American civilization
that disappeared around 1400 A.D.
European settlers began
arriving in the Middle Mississippi River Valley at the beginning of the 1700ís
but didnít really start settling in Madison County until the early 1800s.
Lewis and Clark used Madison County as their winter base in the winter of
1803-04 before starting up the Missouri River on their voyage of discovery. An
Interpretive Center near Hartford at the Lewis and Clark State Historical Site
contains a replica keelboat and other exhibits are on the site along with a
reconstructed fort illustrating the Corp's living conditions.
Madison County was formed
in 1812 as a county in the Illinois Territory and named after James Madison,
fourth President of the United States and who was currently serving in his first
term. The county originally encompassed all of Illinois north of its current
border between the Mississippi and the Indiana border. In 1814 the size of the
county was halved with the formation of Edwards County and the final boundary
was established in 1843. Madison Countyís largest town, Alton, was platted in
1818 by a land speculator, Colonel Rufus Eaton, who named the town after one of
his sons. Because of its good harbor and location Alton quickly became a
transfer point for the shallow draft riverboats that plied the upper Mississippi
and deep draft vessels that operated south of Alton. Interested visitors can
learn more about Alton and the Mississippi River at the Alton Museum of History
and Art. Today Altonís riverfront district has become a popular destination
for antique shopping, boasting over 50 antique and specialty shops.
The coming of the railroad
signaled the demise of steamboats, but river traffic came back in the form of
barges. A series of 29 locks and dams were built in the 1930ís with Lock and
Dam #26 being built in Alton and Lock and Dam #27 being built near Granite City.
The effect of the dam at Alton was to significantly widen the river above the
dam creating what came to be called Alton Lake. This new body of water has
become a water recreation enthusiastís paradise with a number of marinas, boat
ramps and sailing, power boating, skiing, and fishing opportunities. Structural
problems at Lock and Dam #26 caused it to be replaced by the Melvin Price Locks
and Dam which was completed in 1989. Adjacent to the locks and dam is the new
National Great Rivers Museum where visitors can learn about the historical,
geological, and natural aspects of the Mississippi.
Madison County is a
paradise for those that appreciate nature. There is an abundance of attractions
for visitors to interact with nature that feature marshlands, hardwood forests,
walking trails, and rare examples of prairie. Depending on the season, visitors
can see thousands of migratory birds including Bald eagles and White Pelicans.
County offers it visitors a variety of attractions and recreational
opportunities and all the amenities needed for either a daylong visit or an