Alton: A Small Town with a Big History | My Family Travels

Alton: A Little Town with a Big History

Eric Deck

Alton, a town just north from the city life of St. Louis, resides peacefully by the Mississippi River. Most people are oblivious to the deep enriching history that belongs to Alton, but this small town has seen it all. Founded in 1818 by Rufus Easton, and quickly came to life with industry and trade.

Later in the 19th century Alton became a checkpoint on the Underground Railroad for many slaves. To this day, you can still visit some of the tunnels underneath houses that held slaves for the duration of their stay before they continued their journey north. There was a lot of conflict in Alton though during this time because there were many abolitionists and pro-slavery residents, causing friction in the community. Elijah P. Lovejoy was an abolitionist printer and he printed anti-slavery articles in his newspaper. Elijah was murdered by a pro-slavery mob while trying to protect his printing press, making Lovejoy the first martyr for the abolition cause. You can visit the Lovejoy monument in downtown Alton.

Alton is also recognized for the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. As Abraham Lincoln ran for president he campaigned against Douglas, and one of the most pivotal debates occurred in Alton, and today you can visit the monument dedicated to this significant event.

As Civil War broke out in the U.S. Alton stayed loyal to the Union. Toward the end of the war there was an abundance of confederacy prisoners, so the Union had a prison built in Alton. The prison had very poor living standards and many of the prisoners died in captivity. Small pox would break out through the prison and to keep it under control the guards would send the infected prisoners to an island across the river; this island became known as Small Pox island. These prisoners were left to die on this island, and now you can visit the monument dedicated to these prisoners by the island. There are still some stone walls left up from the prison that you can visit and still see to this day.

Alton also is home to some people who have changed the world. One person that Alton is home to is James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King. Alton also has a school which used to be an Air Force Academy, Paul Tibbitts, the man who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, went to this Academy. Alton was also the home to the tallest man to ever live, Robert Wadlow, he was a gigantic size of 8'11" and you can compare yourself to his life size replica built just outside of downtown Alton.

Alton is also considered one of the most haunted places in America. Ghost Hunters paid a visit to the old Milton school and stayed the night to see its haunted effects. The old Civil War prison is also said to be haunted and most of the buildings in downtown as well. McPike’s mansion is surrounded in eerie stories. Many brave teens seek thrill by going down Hell’s Road.

Even thought Alton is a small town, you can always find something to do or see, if its traveling back in time on history tours or seeking thrills adventuring the haunted side, you can do it in Alton.     

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