History of Alton Township, Madison County, Il (Part 1)
From: Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and its People
Edited and Compiled by W. T. Norton, Alton
Associate Editors: Hon. N. G. Flagg, Moro
J. S. Joerner, Highland
The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York 1912


A bright day in June, 1673, down the river come drifting with the current two canoes. In them are seated seven Frenchmen, two of them are Marquette and Joliet, the already famous explorers, who to their other laurels had just added the discovery of the Upper Mississippi. They were the first white men to view the site on which Alton now stands. That they got a startling impression of it is shown by the record made by the gentle Father Marquette in his journal as named in another chapter. The painting on the rocks which he described, was the famous "Piasa Bird," since perpetuated in song and story. The good Father's praise of the skill of Alton's pre historic artist, is appreciated to this day, while his criticism of the wild and muddy ways of the Missouri is accepted. It is 239 years since he made his observations and no reformation in the Missouri's mode of progress is yet apparent.

One hundred and seven years pass away after Marquette's discovery of the site of Altion. The Revolutionary war is in progress. England, also, is at war with Spain, and the two countries are fighting each other across the borderland between the Louisiana territory and Canada. On the morning of the 26th of May, 1780, the aboriginal denizens of the site of Alton, might have witnessed a fine sight from the summit of the bluff. They would have seen a fleet of canoes filled with savage warriors under British officers on their way from Canada to attack St. Louis and Cahokia. The invaders were 750 strong and their war fleet filled the river almost from bank to bank. As they came opposite the picture of the Piasa Bird on the rock there was a sudden crash of musketry and a cloud of arrows filled the air. The bullets crashed against the picture and the flint tipped arrows dented the cliff. With this expression of hatred or defiance of "the bird which devours men," the savage warriors swept on down the river. Two days later they came paddling laboriously back up stream. The Spaniards had defeated them at St. Louis and Gen. Clark had hurled them back from the defenses of Cahokia. In after years, even after Alton had become a large town, Indian delegations passing down the river would fire their rifles at the Piasa Bird as they passed down, then come ashore and perform a war dance on the bluffs above the picture.


The first settlement upon or near the Alton site may have been that of J. Baptiste Cardinal, who is credited with having lived temporarily at a place called Piasa as early as 1783. This place was designated as five or six leagues above Cahokia, and was doubtless on the site of Alton. Cardinal having been taken prisoner by the Indians his family returned to Cahokia. Solomon Pruitt, one of the earliest settlers of Madison county, records that as early as 1805 there was a small building at what is now the corner of Second and Alby streets. The Ryder building now occupies this site. The house was built of loose rock without mortar and roofed with elm bark, This may have been the temporary home of Cardinal, but whether so, or not, it was the first building on the site of Alton of which any trace is known. There was a clearing made prior to 1811 at what is now the corner of Second and Spring streets by two men named Price and Ellis. While plowing one day in June of that year they were attacked by Indians. Price was killed and Ellis was wounded but managed to escape on his horse and made his way to the Moore settlement on Wood river.


In 1815 Colonel Rufus Easton of St. Louis, obtained possession of the lands in this vicinity and laid out a town plat which he called Alton after one of his sons. Easton, George, Alby and Langdon streets he named after other members of his family. His plat extended from the river to Ninth street and from Piasa to Henry. In 1818, he made a contract with W. G. Pinckard and Daniel Crume for the erection of four log houses on the site of Alton. Two of these were combined into one. It was afterwards weather boarded and became known as the Hawley House. It remained standing in the rear of Second street, between Piasa and Market, until a few years ago when it was purchased by H. G. M'Pike and removed to his suburban estate. It was destroyed in 1910.

Colonel Easton's first business venture on the new site was the establishment of a ferry at Fountain creek (Piasa) in opposition to Smeltzer's ferry two miles further up, for the accommodation of emigrants crossing the river to Missouri. A little later Maj. Charles W. Hunter purchased the so called Bates farm, adjoining Henry street on the east, and laid out a town which he called Hunterstown, which was later incorporated with Alton. He built a two story brick tavern there which is still standing in a good state of preservation at the corner of Second and Walnut streets. The land constituting the site of the city was entered between Aug. 19, 1814, and July 18, 1817. There were several Altons started about the same time; the Alton from Piasa to Henry; Joseph Meacham's Alton (Upper Alton) "Alton on the River," first known as Bates' farm, later purchased by Meacham and then by Maj. Hunter. Besides there was an Alton west of Piasa creek and Salu north of Upper Alton. The adjacent settlers were in the habit of lumping these together and calling them "Yankee all town." The first frame house in Alton, proper, was built by Beale Howard. It stood at the corner of Second and Market streets, on the site later, of the former Presbyterian church now the Laura building. It was afterwards enlarged and used as a hotel. It was burned down subsequent to 1840


Upper Alton was laid out in 1816 by Joseph Meacham and for some time was the largest of the Altons. Their growth was slow owing to the land titles not having been perfected. The dire result of the ensuing litigation is shown by the fact that in 1817 Upper Alton, then much the largest of the Altons, contained 78 families which in 1827 had been reduced to seven. Alton had also flourished for a time but the protracted contest over land titles discouraged settlers and it became practically a deserted village. Winthrop S. Gilman, later Alton's leading merchant, furnished Rev. Dr. Norton, in 1880, with some reminiscences. He said: "I landed at Alton in 1829 and found but one house occupied in the place." About this time the contesting land claims between Col. Easton, Judge N. Pope, Gov. Edwards and others were compromised: hence Pope's addition north of Ninth street, and Edwards addition in Middletown. With this compromise a new era began for the infant settlement. Settlers flocked in, including many from the eastern states of the stamp of Hon. Samuel Wade, William Hayden; W. G. Pinckard and others well known in pioneer history. The first brick house was built on Second street by Isaac Prickett, of Edwardsville, in 1832. It was occupied by Mr. Wade and was the birthplace in 1833 of his oldest son, Edward P. Wade, now President of the Alton National Bank.

Caleb Atwater, U. S. Commissioner to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes on the Upper Mississippi, passed Alton on the 30th of June, 1829, and says of it: "The town is twenty miles or more above St. Louis and not far above the mouth of the Missouri. It is located at the point where the ridge of rock that bounds the American Bottom on the east strikes the Mississippi. Alton is owned by Maj. Hunter formerly of the army, and the State is building a penitentiary there. Several steam mills are here and the place is rapidly rising up to some importance, being near the mouth of the Missouri and the point from whence a road could be most easily built in the direction of Edwardsville; the abundance of fossil coal on the spot and many other advantages give this place a decided preference over any other on the east side of the river above the mouth of the Ohio."

Rev. Dr. J. M. Peck, in his "Gazetteer" of 1834, in reciting the progress of Alton to that time, was not as sanguine of its future greatness as were some of the early settlers. He said: "Lower Alton has its disadvantages. These, in impartial justice, I have no wish to conceal. The uneven, abrupt and hilly surface of a portion of the town site; the confined and low situation of another portion, which will prevent the circulation of a pure and healthy atmosphere; the extensive and low bottom that stretches along the opposite side of the Mississippi; the powerful rival in trade and commerce to be found in St. Louis, twenty four miles distant, a place admirably situated and of great business, are amongst the drawbacks to the rapid and extensive growth of Alton and make it problematical whether it will ever be the commercial emporium of the upper valley of the Mississippi but that it will become a place of extensive back country trade there cannot be a doubt." Certainly Dr. Peck had a clearer vision of the future of Alton than most of the enthusiastic early settlers and speculators.


The ambitious citizens of Alton procured a town charter from the Legislature in 1821. It is a unique document and is copied in full in chapter XLIII. The trustees under this instrument seem to have been a self perpetuating body and to have had a nominal existence throughout the decline of the settlement for a number of years thereafter. That there was an organization under it as late as 1832 is shown by a book of ordinances in the city clerk's office bearing dates of that year. But this original charter was either repealed or ignored, as, in the winter of 1832-3, the Legislature granted another charter in which no reference was made to the first. There is. however, a reference to the blocks and lots laid out by Chas. W. Hunter in section 12 and recorded August 23, 1826.

The first section contains the enactment of the General Assembly and the defining of the boundaries of the new incorporation.

Section 2 vests the government in nine trustees. Following sections make the usual provisions up to section 14. This section divides the corporation into three wards. All lying west of Market street to constitute the First ward; all between Market and Henry street the Second ward; all east of Henry street the Third ward. Section 15 provides for an election to be held on the first Monday in March, 1833, for the acceptance or rejection of this charter. Election to be called by present Board of Trustees, and, if accepted, to determine time and place of holding election for Trustees.

This act of the Legislature was approved February 6, 1833. At the time of its approval J. S. Lane was president of the existing town board. There is nothing on record at the City Hall to show whether this charter was accepted or rejected, but presumably the former as John T. Hudson, Alton's first lawyer. was president of the board in 1833. The last town board was elected in March 1837 with Dr. B. K. Hart as President. On July 31, 1837, Alton was incorporated as a city by act of the Legislature, and city officers were elected on the last Monday of August, 1837, being the 28th, and inaugaurated on Sept. 2nd with John M. Krum as Mayor, Dr. Hart having declined to be a candidate. The city was governed under this charter until 1877 when it reorganized under the general incorporation law of the State. At this first city election, in 1837, the following aldermen were chosen: First - ward Samuel Wade, T. G. Hawley, S. W. Robbins. Second ward - Wm. McBride, John Quigley, J. A. Halderman. Third ward - D. P. Berry, John King, John Green. Fourth ward - Andrew Miller, Thomas Wallace, J. T. Hutton. This, in brief, was the evolution of civil government in Alton.


Below is the roster of Mayors from 1837 to the present time, 1912.

John M. Krum, 1837-8.
Chas. Howard, 1838-9.
John King, 1839-40.
Stephen Griggs, 1840-41.
William Martin, 1841-2.
Samuel G. Bailey, 1842-3.
Stephen Pierson, 1843-4
George T. M. Davis, 1844-6.
George T. Brown, 1846-7.
Edward Keating, 1847-8.
Robert Ferguson, 1848-9.
Samuel Wade, 1849-51.
Henry W. Billings, 1851-2.
Thomas M. Hope, 1852-3.
S. A. Buckmaster, 1853-4.

O. M. Adams, 1854-55.
Samuel Wade, 1855-6.
Joseph Brown, 1856-7.
Samuel Wade, 1857-8.
Lyne S. Metcalf, 1858-9.
William Post, 1859-60.
Lewis Kellenberger, 1860-62.
S. A. Buckmaster, 1862-3.
Edward Hollister, 1863-6.
William Post, 1866-7.
Silas W. Farber, 1867-8.
James T. Drummond, 1868-71.
L. Pfeiffenberger, 1871-3.
Chas. A. Caldwell, 1873-4.
L. Pfeiffenberger, 1874-5.

Alexander W. Hope, 1875-8.
L. Pfeiffenberger, 1878-9.
Henry Brueggemann, 1879-81.
L. Pfeiffenberger, 1881-3.
Chas. A. Herb, 1883-5.
John W. Coppinger, 1885-7.
Henry G. M'Pike, 1887-91.
Fred. W. Joesting, 1891-3.
John J. Brenholt, 1893-5.
Henry Brueggemann, 1895-9.
Anthony W. Young, 1899-03.
Henry Brueggemann, 1903-5.
Edmund Beall, 1905-11.
Joseph C. Faulstich, 1911-

Prior to the going into effect of the general incorporation law the term of Mayor was one year. After that two years. Of the several Mayors Samuel Wade served four terms; Edward Hollister, three; James T. Drummond, three; Lucas Pfeiffenberger, five; Henry Brueggemann, four; Edmund Beall, three. George T. Brown was elected Mayor in 1846 and his brother, Capt. Joseph Brown in 1856. Both John M. Krum and Joseph Brown subsequently removed to St. Louis and each served as mayor of that city. Thomas M. Hope was elected mayor in 1852 and his son, A. W. Hope, in 1875. Charles Howard, the second mayor of Alton, after the close of his term, studied theology and became a minister of the M. E. church. Ten of the list were lawyers and two editors. The remainder were business men and manufacturers.

In 1827 the legislature located the State penitentiary in Alton on the site of what is now Uncle Remus park. It was completed in 1831-2 and was the first state institution erected in Illinois. It was located on land ceded by William Russell. In 1857-8 the prisoners were removed to the new penitentiary at Joliet. During the war the old buildings at Alton were occupied by the government as a military prison.


Alton had a part of some prominence in the Black Hawk war - just how much it is difficult to state, but at least two companies were enrolled here, one under Capt. David Smith and another under Capt. Josiah Little. Solomon Pruitt was the first captain of the former company but was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Maj. N. Buckmaster, of Edwardsville, later of Alton, also commanded a battallion in this war, made up of companies from Madison and St. Clair.

After the close of the Indian troubles of 1832 Alton increased rapidly in business and population. It was considered the most desirable location on the east side of the river. Still it was realized, even then, that St. Louis was still better situated for a commercial center and that Alton could only hope for the trade of the back country and a share of river commerce. St. Louis was settled in 1763, nearly sixty years before Alton was thought of, and was a large and flourishing city before Alton was incorporated as a town. Alton was never a rival of St. Louis, although some speculators and real estate dealers may have represented to credulous buyers that it was bound to become such. The oft printed hoax that letters were once addressed to "St. Louis near Alton" is a gag perpetrated by some humorist after the collapse of 1837. From 1832 to the close of 1837 the progress of Alton was rapid. Factories and mills were established, wholesale and retail stores multiplied, river trade was brisk, several steamboats being owned in Alton, and every outlook was fair for the realization of the dreams of the founders. A fine class of population came in, mainly from the eastern states. They were men of education and distinction in business or the learned professions; lawyers, physicians and ministers of the gospel. Churches were established, schools opened, lodges and societies organized and newspapers established, the first newspaper being the Alton Spectator, founded at Upper Alton, in January, 1832, by O., M. Adams and Edward Breath. It was removed to Alton in October of the same year. Its publication was continued by various proprietors until 1839. Next, the Alton Telegraph was founded in January, 1836, by R. M. Treadway and L. A. Parks and its publication continued by the latter and various partners until 1855 when its subscription list was sold to the Alton Courier. The latter paper ceased to exist in 1861, when the Telegraph was revived by Mr. Parks and others, and is still published. In 1836 Elijah P. Lovejoy commenced the publication of the Allon Observer, an anti slavery paper, and its troubled history and the riots following its publication, form the darkest page in Alton's history. The murder of Lovejoy by a pro slavery mob is told in Chapter IX.

The tragedy came at an unfortunate time as far as concerned its effect on the town. The panic of 1837 was then on. The banks suspended specie payments. The great railway scheme of the state, which contemplated various railways centering at Alton, collapsed, and the value of property shrank well nigh to the vanishing point. This commercial condition, together with the universal horror created over the country by the pro slavery riots, combined to puncture the brilliant bubble of prosperity, and dissipated the last hope, if any existed, of any future rivalry with St. Louis. When the tale of the riots was spread over the land the public press was unsparing in condemnation because the right of free speech was involved.

But what did Alton more damage than the riot itself was the judicial procedure that followed. At the next session of the Alton municipal court, held in January, 1838, the grand jury found indictments against both the defenders of the press and certain of the rioters. The cases came to trial and the defenders of the press were, of course, acquitted, but so were the rioters also. The fact that a grand jury would indict men who were defending their lives on private property and that a petit jury would find the assailants "not guilty" was a deadly blow to the reputation of the place. It was a judicial endorsement of crime and violence, and branded the city, in the eyes of the outside world, as a law breaking community. Not only did it cause immigration to cease but hundreds of the best citizens, seeing the results of the panic, the riot and the acquittal of the rioters, despaired of the future and moved away to more promising fields. Among them were men who won honor, wealth and distinction elsewhere and would have made Alton famous and prosperous had they remained. Their loss was irreparable. And few came to take their places. No allowance was ever made in the public mind abroad for the fact that the majority of the rioters were from St. Louis, St. Charles and elsewhere. Alton had to bear all the odium because the authorities failed to enforce the law.

But "times change and men change with them," and on the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Lovejoy a stately monument in his honor was dedicated in the Alton City cemetery erected by the State of Illinois and citizens of Alton.


At the time of the riot the population of Alton was 2,500, and it was not until about 1844-45 that the place began to rally from the blow that had fallen upon its early prosperity. But the great impetus to its upbuilding came with the advent of the railroads. The first road built was the Alton & Sangamon, the first link in the C. & A. A charter was granted to its projectors in 1847 and the road was completed to Springfield in 1852. The great inspirer and promoter of this road was Capt. Benjamin Godfrey, who mortgaged everything he possessed to secure the completion of the road.

In their great business enterprises and their beneficencies Capt. Godfrey and his partner, Winthrop S. Gilman, were to the Alton of the early day what the late John E. Hayner and William Eliot Smith were to the Alton of the present generation.

The next railroad was the Alton & Terre Haute, the first link in the present Big Four system. It, also, was an Alton enterprise. It was incorporated in 1851 and the principal promoter was Capt. Simeon Ryder of Alton, who was its president both prior to and after 1854.

It is a curious fact that both these pioneer railroad men were retired sea captains who sailed the sea for years prior to engaging in great transportation enterprises on shore. Their descendants are still honored residents of Alton and vicinity.

Prior to the advent of railroads, and for some years thereafter, Alton was largely engaged in river trade. Steamboats and steamboat lines were owned here and it was, at one time, the head of navigation for New Orleans packets. Afterwards, before the railroads were extended from Alton to St. Louis, all passengers and freight arriving here bound for St. Louis were transferred to steamers at this point. Among the passengers thus transferred across our wharf was the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, of England. This was in '60. The river kings of those days were such men as Capt. Joseph Brown, Capt. W. P. LaMothe and Capt. John A. Bruner, who were, to the river trade of those days what the late Capt. G. W. Hill was and Captains William and Henry Leyhe are to the business in the present generation. But no river steamer of the present day makes the time of the old Altona which made the run from Alton to St. Louis in 55 minutes and the return in an hour and thirty seven minutes. But there was no government inspection in those days and the rival steamers raced

"With a nigger squat on the safety valve And the furnace crammed rosin and pine."


In 1844 came the great flood in the Mississippi which has not since been surpassed. In 1844 steamers were able to sail across the American Bottom to the bluffs. But in 1903 the river rose almost as high as in 1844. In both the destructive inundations of 1844 and 1903 the Mississippi and the Missouri were one great stream entirely submerging Missouri point for a distance of thirty miles and extending from the bluffs on the Mississippi to the range on the further side of the Missouri. In 1903 all the railroads running into St. Louis from the east with one or two exceptions and via the Bellefontaine bridge over the Missouri were inundated and the passengers and mails to and from St. Louis were transferred by steamer between Alton and St. Louis, as in the old days.


In 1840 Daniel Webster visited Alton. He was then a candidate for the Whig nomination for president. He was banqueted at the Alton House on Front street. Champagne flowed freely and Webster afterwards made a speech from the porch where he was said to have maintained his equilibrium by holding on tightly to the railing. He missed the nomination however which went to General Harrison. The latter was elected in the great "Tippecanoe & Tyler, too" campaign which followed.


In 1846 war broke out between the United States and Mexico and Alton was made the place of rendezvous for all the troops from Illinois. Six regiments were organized and equipped here, beside several independent companies. All took steamers here for the Gulf, except one regiment which went from here up the Missouri river to Fort Leavenworth and thence marched across the plains. To this regiment belonged the late Captain D. R. Sparks who then ranked as corporal. Col. A. F. Rodgers and the late Captain W. R. Wright were privates in Colonel Bissell's regiment. All three of these soldiers served with honor in the Civil war. Colonel Rodgers is the only survivor of the Mexican war now residing in Alton. Four Alton officers were killed at Buena Vista and their bodies brought home for burial after the war. They were Capt. J. W. Baker and Lieutenants Ferguson, Robbins and Fletcher. Their bodies now rest in the City cemetery. When their remains arrived from Mexico they were honored with the greatest funeral pageant ever known in the state. Rev. S. Y. McMasters, of St. Paul's church, preached the sermon.

Alton furnished a large contingent of volunteers for this war, the last company accepted by the government being a troop of cavalry under Capt. Josias Little of Upper Alton who was also a captain in the Black Hawk war.

Further details will be found in Chapter XXXVI.

In 1842 occurred the alleged duel between Lincoln and Shields, which terminated in a ridiculous fiasco in which no blood was shed. It was to have taken place across the river immediately opposite Alton to which point the principals and seconds repaired by ferry boat after driving to Alton in carriages. The details of this affair of honor are narrated in Chapter XXVII.

Alton early took rank as a literary center; Captain Benj. Godfrey founded Monticello seminary in 1835; and Alton seminary, later Shurtleff college, opened its doors to students in 1834. Rev. Hubbel Loomis, of revered memory, and John Russell, were the first instructors.

[forward to part 2 of Alton, Ilinois history]

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