You can see Alton, IL from St. Louis, MO from the old and new Chain of Rocks Bridge as well as the Gateway Arch! Although it is in Illinois it is also in the Metro-East region of St. Louis, MO, which makes it unique.
Alton and St. Louis are called Sister Cities, one on each side of the great Mississippi River. It was actually growing faster than St. Louis at one point, becoming a prominent city, until St. Louis decided to create its own competing town next to it (Grafton, IL) to stop it from expanding. It is famous for its prehistoric Piasa bird painted on the cliff from early native settlers, its role as a safe haven for slaves during the Civil War, the site of the seventh Lincoln-Douglas Debate and the place where Congressional representatives went to sign the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution to abolish slavery.
Today it is known more as the “Most Haunted City in America”, the multi-faceted streets of antique shops and as the magnificent limestone bluffs along The Great River Road.
Alton is beautiful. Most people when they imagine the Midwest they think of it as outstretched or flat depressed land, but Alton is something entirely different. Resting next to the Mississippi River, it has grand limestone bluffs that curl in waves from erosion, hills upon hills of old ambitious homes and shops. The parks are wide and green; life greets you there in a cool breeze that cascades over the water and glistens in the sunlight.
Although I am sure that most residents would not agree with me at all, I’m somewhat glad that it was paused in its acceleration to become a major city like St. Louis. It is timeless there, lost between the vintage and the modern worlds. I think that is why it seems so haunted, because the past and the present meet and dance on the streets and you feel like you are neither in one place or the other. It is one of my most favorite places to visit and take my children. My husband and I being in love with old antiques have a fascination with their shops, so we visit often, but it was the Great River Road that called us this past weekend. One of America’s secret treasure’s, it actually extends from Keokuk, IA to Western Kentucky where it meets the Ohio River!
My husband is very studious in rocks and Indian Artifacts, having collected them since he was a boy. Sometimes I can not help the swell of emotion I feel when he takes the time to teach our little tot about the types of stone or envision the afternoons to come when he will take him walking along creek beds in search of arrowheads. While we wandered the river road, my husband told us about the best spots to find artifacts along bluffs, what the limestone bluffs were and the stories from the very first settlers there. Wandering that road I fell in love with him again. I wondered if many other couples found themselves in admiration of their partners or spouses, or perhaps new loves, while walking along looking outward at the life around them.
Here my husband rested on a rock with my son that is ideally placed where the great rivers meet, The Mississippi & Missouri Rivers. My teen and I were trying to catch glimpses of the Bald Eagles that are the main attraction during this time of year. They were flying overhead, but I couldn’t see from all the sunlight and never did catch a snap with them in it! Although at one point, while wandering back to the car, an Eagle flew right above me and I couldn’t help but catch my breath. It was one of the most incredible birds I have ever witnessed in flight. It is no wonder people travel from all around the world to see the Bald Eagles on the cliffs. Having been a witness of their grandeur, it is something I will never forget.
I can’t wait to come back in the spring when the trees are all blossoming with rich greens and the moss and grass overflow the hillside, but this was a beautiful and oddly warm winter day. A wonderful afternoon with my family, rich in history and love. If you ever get a chance to visit the St. Louis area, do not forget about its sister Alton. Although she may not have towering skyscrapers, bustling clubs or 5 Star Hotels, she is just as remarkable. I think of her as the the quiet beautiful neighbor lost in a dream, captured in the imaginings of what could have been and reaching out over the river to what it may one day become.
You can learn more about Alton, IL, it’s beauty and historical importance by visiting their website. Check out their schedule of Events and Photos, especially if you plan to visit.