Alton is a small town on the banks of the Mississippi, located close to the confluence of the three great west running rivers: the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Illinois. This significant position drew the town into the major issues of the early 19th century: slavery, commerce, war, and western expansion. In the lead up to the Civil War, it was a vital hub for slavery abolitionists, as Illinois was a free state across the river from the slave state of Missouri. Lincoln debated in Alton, and the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in the States, was written in the town.
Alongside all this dramatic history, there is plenty of scope for outdoor adventures on the river, hiking in the surrounding countryside, or cultural activities in the town. Alton is an ideal destination for a short trip to dip or delve into some of this history, nature and culture.
"A muse, a highway and a home" is how the Mississippi is described by one exhibit in this fascinating museum, which explores the history and ecology of this greatest of North American rivers. It charts the great geological changes which molded the Mississippi of today, examines the part it played in Native American culture, and then considers its course through the last 400 years of North American history, as steamboats and poets followed its course. Not to bore its young visitors, the museum also houses entertaining interactive exhibits for kids.
Alton was situated on something of a fracture line in the American Civil War, and is dotted with fascinating historic sites as a result. One of these is the ruins of a Confederate Prison, constructed on the riverbank in the center of town. It was built in 1883 as Illinois’s first state-run prison. Among its first inmates were thousands of Confederate soldiers, incarcerated following their defeat in the Civil War.
What was once the Alton Belle Casino, a little steamboat casino and first gaming center in the state, is now the Argosy Casino – a crazy and colorful structure on the banks of the Mississippi River that more resembles a children’s fun house than a casino. It’s popularity spreads from regular locals and visiting tourists from miles away, adding to the almost always hopping atmosphere. Some of the newest table games and slot machines abound on the large and stylish casino floor.
Bon-Air has become something of a legendary establishment in Alton. It’s a lively drinking joint, with indoor and outdoor bars and a great selection of beverages to sample. The fare, like everything else at Bon-Air, is simple comfort foods – burgers, Mexico shrimp, steak skewers, and their classic Bratwurst – at phenomenally low prices, some unchanged since the eighties. And at the weekends it becomes a packed party hot spot, with live music until the early hours. Visitors over the drinking age who enjoy a cold pint, 99-cent burgers, local acts and a strictly Alton party crowd will want to call Bon-Air home.
Staying at this exquisite bed and breakfast in the heart of historic Alton, right along the path of the Heartland Rivers Wine Trail is an sumptuous experience mixing small town hospitality and modern amenities seen nowhere else, like a complimentary 24-hour luxury chocolate buffet, stocked with at least 21 different types of chocolate. The restored turn-of-the-century Victorian mansion is filled with antique and period furnishings, and even holds house museum tours to the public. The rooms, however, have been updated with modern details like open fireplaces and a heart-shaped Jacuzzi tub in the Honeymoon Suite (not part of the original architecture).