Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway Visitor's Guide

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Elsah, Illinois

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, and stretching out for approximately two miles along the Illinois River, is the picturesque town of Grafton set that is against the river bluffs. Highway 100, the Great River Road, becomes Main Street as it enters Grafton and runs the length of the town just blocks off the river. Main Street is lined with restaurants, antique and craft shops, wine shops, and other attractions. Just five miles upriver is Pere Marquette State Park, Illinois’ most popular park destination. If you plan an extended stay, you can find lodging at a variety of the area's Bed and Breakfast and Guest Houses.

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Hamilton Primary School
Otterville, Illinois

In 1830, Dr. Silas Hamilton settled in Otterville with three of his former slaves. When Dr. Hamilton died in 1834, he left provisions in his will for the building and funding of a private school. This school became the first free integrated school in the United States. The school was originally built in 1835, and the present building was erected in 1873. After Dr. Hamilton's death, one these slaves, George Washington, became a successful farmer imbued with a strong sense of community spirit. When he died in 1864, he left a sizable estate with provisions for a monument to Dr. Hamilton and a trust fund for the education of "colored persons, or Americans of African descent." The trust fund is still in existence today. Dr. Hamilton, George Washington and Gilbert Douglas are buried in a crypt at the corner of Main and Hamilton. This is the only instance in the United States where a master and a slave are buried side by side.

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Welcome to the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway Area, where the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers meet. Here you'll find magnificent limestone bluffs, forested parks and wildlife areas, real river towns, ferries that ply the rivers, and friendly and gracious people.

The Scenic Byway begins near the towns of Hartford and Wood River. This is Lewis & Clark country with a new interpretive site at the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford which features the Cutaway Keelboat and a replica of the Corps of Discovery's winter camp. Just to the south in Collinsville is Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site with an interpretative center, tours and events that help visitors explore the giant earthen mounds and fascinating culture and remains of a prehistoric Native American civilization that disappeared around 1400 A.D. Alton is the metropolitan hub of the area and is rich in history with monuments and attractions to the Civil War. Alton is a major antique center with over fifty antique shops, most which are situated in the riverfront district. Alton is also the site of the Alton Visitors Center which gives visitors a wealth of information to better explore the region.

The Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail, a twenty mile paved trail, parallels the Great River Road beneath towering limestone bluffs and past the picturesque towns of Elsah and Grafton. Elsah is one of only a handful of communities in the country to be placed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places. Grafton, the "Winter Home of the Bald Eagle," is becoming an attraction of its own with its shops, restaurants, seasonal events, and river ferries. Just north of Grafton is Pere Marquette State Park with a wealth of recreational activities including hiking trails, fishing, boating, horseback riding, and interpretative programs. Farther north travelers can cross the Illinois River on a free ferry operated by the state of Illinois to the village of Kampsville, home to the Center of American Archeology, which researches the remains of Native American habitation as far back as 8,000 B.C.  

The region contains areas of interest not directly adjacent to the Scenic Byway. West of Grafton and Pere Marquette is Calhoun County. Situated on a peninsula, Calhoun County is almost an island and has retained the unique charm of a small but active agricultural community. Its rural villages and peach and apple orchards are serviced by three river ferries that cross the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. To the northeast is Jerseyville with its 19th century courthouse and the antique shops in its historic downtown district.

Whatever your interest, you’re sure to find it in the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway area. At our commitment is to provide visitors with the most complete and up to date information on the attractions, events, and things to do in the area.






River Ferries
Sam Vadalabene
Bike Trail
Jacoby Arts Center
Alton, Illinois
Elsah, Illinois