River Towns USA

Experience the quaint, charming and historic river towns nestled among the great rivers all around Alton, Illinois on the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.

Three Distinctly Different American River Towns

From the "village where time stood still"to our own little "real river town," explore the towns of Alton, Grafton and Elsah for three distinctly different river town experiences within a 15 mile stretch of river. At the heart of the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, Alton is one of America's great river towns. Abundant with historical figures and local legends, many threads of our nation's history can be found right here in Alton. First settled in 1818, Alton was a thriving steamboat landing, growing with industry and bustling with trade on its river banks. By the early 1830s, Alton was booming and positioned to outpace the neighboring towns of St. Louis to the west and Chicago to the north.

Visitors to Alton today, come to this river town to get back to its early roots. Discover the legend of the Piasa Bird as French explorers Marquette and Joliet would have seen it more than 300 years ago. See how you measure up to the eight foot, 11.1 inch, life-size statue of Robert Wadlow, the World's Tallest Man and Alton's "Gentle Giant." Discover the Civil War in Alton from the final of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, setting the stage for Abraham Lincoln's future presidency, to the ruins of the infamous Alton Prison. Shopping in the downtown district along Antique Row, walking along the Mississippi River at Riverfront Park, dining at locally owned restaurants or hanging out at the summer Block Parties, all lend to capturing the feel of this river town.

Just 11 miles upriver, nestled in the bluffs of the Mississippi River, the Village of Elsah offers a glimpse of early Americana in the "village where time stood still." Much like Alton, Elsah was an important port on the Mississippi River in the early 1850s with flour mills, distilleries, manufacturing and warehouses. However, as the traces of early commerce disappeared, the houses representing the village's early beginning remained the same. Graced with stone cottages and tidy gardens, Elsah was the first village in its entirety to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

The Village of Elsah is full of little hidden treasures, including that of Principia College. In 1930, the land for Principia College was purchased high upon the bluffs overlooking the river. It is the only Christian Science College in the world. The design and construction of Principia was the largest commission of San Francisco architect Bernard Maybeck's career. It was, in his own words, "his favorite child." The entire campus is a National Historic Landmark.

A stroll through Elsah offers visitors a trip back in time to for a glimpse of an early American river town. The village is known today for its picturesque beauty, historic homes, lush gardens and a sense of a simpler way of life.

Continuing north along the scenic byway another two miles brings visitors to the banks of our final river town – Grafton, Il. At the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, Grafton is our real river town. For 150 years, the "river rats" of Grafton have battled the swelling waters of the rivers with numerous floods, including the historic Flood of 1993. This bustling tourist community welcomes visitors to celebrate the hometown flavor and down-to-earth qualities of this river town. Gift shops, antique stores, riverside wineries and âhot fish sandwich stands line the Main Street and riverfront. Unique festivals add to the flair of this river town that seems to go with the flow of the rise and fall of the rivers at its feet.

In a mere 15 miles, visitors to the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway can experience three distinctly different historic river towns from Alton to Elsah to Grafton, offering an authentic glimpse of Midwestern America.

Planning a trip along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway is simple at www.GreatRiversByway.com or www.VisitAlton.com. Travel Planners are available for download at the website or by calling +1-618-465-6676 (International) or 1-800-258-6645 (US).