Celebrating Diversity in Great Rivers & Routes

Did you know? Celebrated jazz musician Miles Davis was born in Alton, IL. The only statue honoring Davis in North America is found in his birthplace along the Mississippi River.

From soul food to comfort food and everything in between, the Great Rivers & Routes region in southwest Illinois celebrates the Black-owned businesses in the region. And the diversity doesn’t stop there. Black history comes to life in the area with monuments to abolitionists, Underground Railroad tours, and is known as the birth home of jazz great Miles Davis. Plan a road trip to the region and stop at some of these historical spots and pop in to these family-owned and operated businesses.

Meet Yvonne Campbell, owner of My Just Desserts in Alton

My Just Desserts is a local favorite in Alton, IL. Enjoy a nice family atmosphere where you can get some sweet pies or a delicious lunch (Tip: try their chicken salad). In 2014 single mother Yvonne Campbell purchased it from founder Ann Badasch. Campbell may have been intimidated by the task of owning her own well-known business but she has taken it on like a boss. She has helped the business flourish and even published a cook book that includes all of the restaurant’s signature recipes. So if you really like the food when you try it, you can buy the book and make it at home as well.

The Miles Davis Statue in Alton's downtown entertainment district is a popular attraction.

Right down the street from My Just Desserts is the Miles Davis statue that celebrates the beloved American jazz trumpeter/ composer born in Alton IL. Davis was born in 1926 and built a career as an artist that was respected by many. The monument in Alton is the only one in all United States. Go see the bronze monument that showcase what the musician loved doing the most, playing his trumpet, then look around at some of the unique businesses surrounding him.

Head to Bluff City Outdoors for all your fishing needs

Broadway is one of the main roads in Alton where visitors can find many different shops, restaurants and history. Bluff City Outdoors is one of them. It is a family owned bait and tackle shop and the owners are dedicated to helping you catch the best fish. Mark and Felicia McMurry met in the shop and immediately fell in love. They both have great work ethics that have trickled down to their daughter. A couple years ago they were featured with a makeover during Alton’s Small Business Revolution win. The store received a new face and brand that has helped it become a go to spot for area fishermen and water enthusiasts. Stop in on your way to any area fishing spots including: Culp Park in Bethalto, Horseshoe Lake State Park in Collinsville, or just cast a line on the Mississippi River.

Visit Lincoln-Douglas Square in Alton, the site of the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas

Driving down Broadway you may pass a scene that is monumental for the town of Alton and the United States. It is the place of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate that took place in October 1858, the seventh debate between the two men for a U.S. Senate seat. This debate brought in much attraction from the whole country as the two disputed slavery and other problem topics present at the time. You can learn more about this and the civil war on the Lincoln and Civil War Legacy Trail. Start here at this monument and make your way through history.

Soul Food at its best is found at Lovett's in Alton

Lovett’s Soul Food, located on College Ave. in Upper Alton has been in business for six years now . Lovett’s is a home-made and family owned restaurant owned by Merry Lovett and her son Brad Chavours. Their beloved home -made meals include collared greens, mac n cheese, and their most famous deep-fried pig snoots. Lovett’s was also selected by the Small Business Revolution for a complete makeover that has helped them grow into a very well known and loved restaurant. If you haven’t had the chance to try soul food make this your next stop and tell your friends!

the Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument soars over Alton, a memorial to abolitionist Lovejoy who was killed by a mob in 1837.

While crossing the Clark Bridge into Alton from Missouri, you may notice a monument that stands tall above the tress. The Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument and celebrates the life of a man who stood for freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom from slavery. He was born in Maine in 1802 and later in life came to Saint Louis, MO. to be a teacher. During this journey he started to write for the press and speak out against slavery and lynchings. Many did not approve of these actions and forced him to move elsewhere, so he came to Alton, IL. were he continued his practices. He established an abolitionist newspaper called The Observer which gained mixed reviews. After opening an office in a riverfront warehouse, it was burned down by a mob of anti-abolitionists. In an effort to try and save his warehouse, Lovejoy was shot and killed on Nov. 7, 1837. His monument stands as tall as he did against slavery.

There are more Black owned businesses in Edwardsville and Collinsville including Obar Cafe.

Stepping out of Alton, discover several additional Black owned businesses including Obar Café and Gulf Shores Restaurant and Grill both in Edwardsville. Obar Café is known for its exotic way of eating eggs and Gulf Shores is known for its New Orleans flavors that make your taste buds water. Red Top BBQ & Chili in Collinsville is another spot you could show your support by trying some of their spicy gumbo along with their barbequed meats.

As you can see we are just hitting the surface with some of these spots as we start to dig in deeper in the community. What you should gain out of this post is a couple new spots to try out for your next meal and possibly new knowledge of history in the area. Open your horizons, tell others to get involved, post a picture, tell some history and keep on smiling.

About the Author

Cailyn Tegel

Cailyn Tegel is a senior at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She joined the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau as its Summer 2020 Intern. She is an avid traveler and plans to pursue a career in travel or public relations upon graduation. She is planning a trip to Greece in the Spring of 2021 and has plans to visit all 50 states in the U.S. in the next few years!