Alton, Illinois

Alton, Illinois

name = Alton
native_name =
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category = City
etymology =
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image_caption = The Clark Bridge which connects Alton to West Alton, Missouri

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country = United States
state = Illinois
region = Madison
region_type = County
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district_type = Township
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lat_m = 54
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area_imperial = 16.6
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population_date = 2000
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mayor = Donald E Sandidge
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leader_type = Mayor
timezone = CST
utc_offset = -6
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utc_offset_DST = -5
postal_code = 62002
area_code = 618
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map_caption = Location of Alton within Illinois
map_background = Illinois - background map.png map_locator = Illinois2
commons = Alton, Illinois
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Alton is a city in Madison County, Illinois, United States, about 15 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri. The population was 34,511 at the 2006 census. Alton was ranked the 27th most livable small city in America by Money Magazine, edging out Edison, New Jersey by a slim margin.Fact|date=April 2008


The Alton area was home to Native Americans long before the founding of the modern city. While early historic accounts indicate occupation of this area by the Illiniwek or Illinois Confederacy, earlier native settlement is evidenced by the presence of the famous Piasa bird painted on a cliff face nearby, first seen by Europeans in 1673 by Father Pere Marquette.

Alton was developed as a river town in 1818 by Rufus Easton, who named the town after his son. He ran a passenger ferry service across the Mississippi River to the opposite Missouri shore. Alton is located amid the confluence of three important navigable rivers: the Illinois, the Mississippi, and the Missouri.Under construction is a monument, and multilevel observatory, located at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi near the levee in Wood River. Alton grew into a matter-of-fact river town with an industrial character and its steep-sloped streets filled with silos, railroad tracks, brick commercial buildings. Alton once was the site of several brick factories, and brick streets are still visible. Many blocks of housing in Alton were built in the Victorian Queen Anne style, which marks a more successful period of the city's history. Also, Alton is subject to floods, many of which inundated much of the historic down-town area. Visitors can see the various flood levels of different dates marked on the large grain silos near the Argosy Casino.

North along the river the River Road stretches north to Grafton, a dramatic contrast between the high cliffs of the Illinois side to the broad, flat, green countryside of Portage des Sioux, Missouri. The Great River Road is a popular bicycle tour destination. Hidden in a notch of the cliff is the tiny town of Elsah, Illinois, once a down-and-dirty liquor-soaked tug-boater's retreat, now reborn as a quaint antique center with trimmed front lawns.

On November 7, 1837 abolitionist printer Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered by a mob of supporters of slavery while he was attempting to protect his Alton-based press from being destroyed a third time. The mob then threw the press into the Mississippi. This tragedy marked Lovejoy as the first martyr of the abolition movement. As a consequence, the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution was drafted in Alton. Alton has been home to gangs of bootleggers in the thirties known throughout the state, and the overall bloody history of the town has contributed to the reputation of Alton as one of the most haunted places in America. Notable places include The History and Hauntings Bookstore, The McPike Mansion, and the old Milton School.

On October 15, 1858, Alton was the site of the seventh Lincoln-Douglas debate. There is a memorial at the site in downtown Alton that features statues of Lincoln and Douglas, as they would have appeared during the debate.

Alton has more earthly stories behind it as well. Once growing faster than its sister city of St. Louis, a coalition of St. Louis businessmen planned to build a town to stop the spread and bring business to St. Louis. The result was Grafton, Illinois.

During the Civil War, Alton was home to a Union prison, from which prisoners would attempt to escape and cross the Mississippi River back to the slave state of Missouri. Also, some of Alton's majestic historic homes played a part in assisting the Underground Railroad. There is a Confederate cemetery on the north side of Alton, a memorial marker is present on the site.

At Robert Wadlow's grave (the worlds tallest man, ever), the earth is raised so visitors can compare its length to other graves, is in Upper Alton Cemetery. There is a memorial to him, including a life size statue, and a replica of his chair on College Avenue, across from the Southern Illinois University Dental School.

The Sisters of St Francis of the Martyr St George have their American province motherhouse in Alton.

Flood of 1993

Because of Alton's close location to the Mississippi River, it was severely damaged and flooded by dangerously high water level in the Great Flood of 1993. Alton's water supply was cut off due the proximity of it by the river, and townspeople had to go to [ Alton Square] , the area's local mall, where they received bottle water. This water was donated from many local businesses, including Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis, Missouri.


Alton is located at coor dms|38|54|2|N|90|9|35|W|city (38.900438, -90.159844).GR|1 This is on the Mississippi River above the mouth of the Missouri River. Most of Alton is located on bluffs overlooking the river valley.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.6 square miles (43.0 km²), of which, 15.6 square miles (40.5 km²) of it is land and 1.0 square miles (2.5 km²) of it (5.78%) is water.

The new Lock and Dam #26 or Melvin Prince Lock & Dam, is available for tours, and is a favorite spot to eagle watch. There is a bird sanctuary across the river.


Alton was once a town of heavy industry and manufacturing. Laclede Steel established major steel manufacturing operations in the town. [cite web |url= |title=U.S. & Illinois Reach Settlement with Bankrupt Laclede Steel to Facilitate Clean-up & Reopening of Alton, Illinois Mill |publisher=U.S. Department of Justice |date=2003-01-22]

Alton has transformed itself into a popular [ tourist retreat] . Alton's location and history make it a popular tourist area for antique shopping and gambling aboard the Argosy Casino. During the winter, many visitors from across the country come to Alton for birdwatching, as bald eagles roost on the bluffs along the Mississippi. Other Greater Alton attractions include Alton Marina, nine golf courses including Greater St. Louis' and Illinois' only [ Arnold Palmer designed and managed course] , [ Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway] , [ Alton Square Mall] , fine dining, night life, and bed and breakfasts including the [ "Best of Illinois"] (llinois Magazine Readers Poll). Alton is also a popular venue for weddings, receptions, and honeymoons.


As of the censusGR|2 of 2000, there were 30,496 people, 12,518 households, and 7,648 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,949.3 people per square mile (752.8/km²). There were 13,894 housing units at an average density of 888.1/sq mi (343.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 72.32% White, 24.72% African American, 0.18% Native American, 0.38% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.68% from other races, and 1.71% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.49% of the population.

There were 12,518 households out of which 29.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.3% were married couples living together, 17.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.9% were non-families. 33.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 3.02.

In the city the population was spread out with 25.8% under the age of 18, 9.1% from 18 to 24, 29.1% from 25 to 44, 20.0% from 45 to 64, and 16.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 88.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $31,213, and the median income for a family was $37,910. Males had a median income of $33,083 versus $22,485 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,817. About 14.7% of families and 18.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.8% of those under age 18 and 13.2% of those age 65 or over.


Alton contains a number of landmarks. Among these are a statue of Elijah Lovejoy and the cable-stayed Clark Bridge, which is one of only very few of its type in the world. The bridge has been called a 'Super Bridge,' and was the subject of a National Geographic special on its construction. The Piasa bird painting has also been restored after been vandalized by some high schoolers. The statue of the tallest man in the recorded history of the world, Robert Wadlow who at his tallest was 8 ft 11in., is another landmark of the town. There are also many historic landmark structures in Alton. One of which is the Franklin House, also later known as the Lincoln Hotel and now the [ Lincoln Lofts] , where Abraham Lincoln dined and may have slept just prior to his 7th debate with Stephen Douglason October 15, 1858. There are sautes of Lincoln and Douglas at the square on the corner of Landmarks and Broadway where they debate for the last for the 1858 Presidential Election.


Alton is home to Marquette Roman Catholic High School which is named after the Catholic French Explorer, Father Pere Marquette. The sports teams names are also called the Explores.There is a new public high school, Alton High School, complete with a three-court gymnasium and six tennis courts. Based on 2006 district data, Alton School district 11 Enrollment stands at 6,480; The average number of teaching years in the district is 13.5; The high school graduation rate is 97.7%; Elementary Pupil-Teacher Ratio - 18.9; and Secondary Pupil-Teacher Ratio - 22.3. The Alton High School has an award winning math team and music program. There is a "gifted" student program for 1st through 8th grade. This program exposes the participating students to a wider variation of knowledge as well as special projects. Alton High School offers an honors program with a weighted GPA scoring system to any honors class.

The Alton Middle School is housed in the old Alton High School complex. Alton Middle School serves grades 6-8. The school is made up of three buildings: the main building, annex, and Olin Building. The Main building is the oldest, and is unique for its use of Romanesque design.

Notable residents

*Miles Davis, jazz musician
*Craig Hentrich, two-time NFL All-Pro Bowl punter
*Robert Pershing Wadlow, tallest human recorded to date
*James Earl Ray, assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr.
*Phyllis Schlafly, Conservative activist. Opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, and "Eastern Establishment" wing of Republican party
*Lyman Trumbull, first person to write a bill about Civil Rights (although it did not pass)
*Brad Carter, infamous computer hacker known as "RBCP" and author of the PLA e-zine
*Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist
*Michael Boyle, beloved pop up book author and pro wrestler


External links

* [ Official Website for the City of Alton]
* [ Alton Convention and Visitors Bureau]
* [ Mr. Lincoln and Freedom: Lincoln-Douglas Debate in Alton]
* [ Alton Collection] Missouri History Museum Archives

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