Alton is located 25 Miles north of St. Louis amid the confluence of three navigable rivers, the Mississippi, the Illinois and the Missouri, as a river trading and industrial town whose waterfront features concrete grain silos and railroad tracks for the shipping of grains and produce. Once the site of several brick factories, Alton’s streets are paved in brick along with many commercial buildings located downtown. The Great Rivers Region is accessible from six interstates, an international airport and an Amtrak station.
Historic Trails Alton’s Civil War and Lincoln Legacy Trail features costumed docents at sites throughout the city revealing Alton’s legacy through personal tales along with the Underground Railroad, where runaway slaves were hidden in caves, barns and basements. The Alton Museum of History and Art has special exhibits relating to Alton’s connection to the Civil War era.
River Trails where great rivers converge with great moments in history at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Confluence Tower; learn how they planned their journey west. Hartford is at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and point of departure for Lewis and Clark. Elsah continuing up the Great River Road and marvel at the numerous buildings that still exist. Most of the houses and building in the village were built in the mid- to late 1800s.
The Entire Village of Elsah is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Grafton’s riverfront was packed with manufacturing companies, mills, quarries, loading docks, and riverboat traffic in the 1800s. Today, it is a tourist destination with its specialty shops and wineries.
Architecture Trails many blocks of housing in Alton were built in the Victorian Queen Anne style during the prosperous period in the river city’s history at the top of the hill in the commercial area, several stone churches and city hall.
The Middletown Historic District was the center of wealth in the early days of Alton with homes reflecting the wealth of families and their descendants that led Alton society for more than a century. Brick sidewalks connect a park with a Victorian playhouse.
Upper Alton Historic District a cultural and educational center, Upper Alton was once a separate town anchored by a former military academy and the oldest continuously used educational buildings in Illinois.
The Story of Mobility in America
Maritime Museums in Historic Towns
The National Great Rivers Museum and Melvin Price Locks & Dam feature the importance of the river system to America’s economy from her grand history and cultural significance, to her ecological importance and role as a transportation corridor.
The Mississippi River, over 2,200 miles long, is the second longest river in the United States and the third largest river basin in the world, exceeded in size only by the Amazon and Congo basins. The central portion of the river is known as the Middle Mississippi, a 300-mile reach from Saverton, MO, to Cairo, IL. Further defining the Middle Mississippi are the confluences of three major tributaries, the Illinois, the Missouri and the Ohio Rivers.
In the early 19th century, great forests lined the narrow river’s banks of the Middle Mississippi. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 marked the opening of the West, and river settlements began to grow. In 1817, the first steamboat arrived in St. Louis and the population soared. Steamboat arrivals had increased more than a thousand-fold by 1858, turning the river into a superhighway.
The timber resources lining the riverbanks were used to build rapidly expanding settlements and fuel the steamboat’s boilers. The riverbanks became less stable, the river-widened and trees impeded navigation, resulting in loss of life and vessels. In 1880, Congress directed the Corps of Engineers to correct, create and maintain a safe and dependable navigation channel.
Mark Twain put this effort in perspective: “The military engineers have taken upon their shoulders the job of making the Mississippi over again”
The Corps of Engineers continually examines the biological impact of the navigational structures on the river’s ecosystem, balancing navigational needs with those of the environment.
Connect for Travel to Alton Illinois and the National Great Rivers Museum