A Special Feature of Southwest Illinois News
by Betty Moore
During the Civil War, Alton carved out a volatile legacy steeped in politics. It was the site of the Confederate Prison. In 1837, abolitionist and newspaper editor Elijah Parish Lovejoy was killed while protecting his press from a pro-slavery mob. A monument commemorating his death stands prominently on the hill overlooking the city.
The last in a series of seven U.S. Senate debates was held in Alton between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. At the time, Missouri was a slave state while Illinois was a free state. A square was built at the intersection of Broadway and Market Street to commemorate the event.
The area is also known as Piasa Country. Visitors are drawn by the legendary Piasa Bird that was honored by native Americans. A painting of the mythical creature was re-created in 1998 on the bluffs just north of Alton.
During the winter months, the majestic American Bald Eagles arrive by the hundreds to nest in the bluffs and the wetlands near the Melvin Price Locks and Dam 26, just south of Alton. A National Great Rivers Museum is planned for the Visitor Center next to the dam. During the summer, tours are held for people age 13 years and older.
Alton is also known as the home of Robert Wadlow, "the Gentle Giant." Born in 1918, he grew to a record height of 8 feet, 11.1 inches. A life-size statue stands in his memory on the grounds of SIU Dental School on College Avenue.
Nearby, the Alton Belle Casino is a favorite attraction with over 60,000 square feet of entertainment. The floating gaming facility features restaurants, lounges and a showroom.
Shoppers can also enjoy browsing year-round through more than 40 unique antique stores and specialty shops in the Alton Landing area. Homemade desserts, giant hamburgers for under a buck and fine dining are just a short walk from the river and the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.
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