Christian Hill Historic District
Alton Illinois is a great example of an American city that still has most of its historic homes intact. Within the three historic districts- Christian Hill, Middletown, and Upper Alton- Victorian, Federal, Italianate, Gothic and Greek Revival homes and businesses still thrive and are occupied. Unlike in larger American cities which have demolished much of their historic districts, Alton has embraced their historic architecture and preserved it- choosing to revitalize historic properties instead of build over them- with much help towards that goal provided by the Alton Area Landmarks Association.
Alton is one of the top 10 oldest cities in Illinois which makes Alton's historic districts that much more distinguished. The city has been home to many American political, economic, and social figures, was a last stop and jumping point for Westward Expansion, a stronghold for the Union in the fight against the confederacy, and an important crossroads of industrialization and travel which helped build the infrastructure of the United States.
Great shakers of industry forged economic wealth through railroad companies, limestone quarries, brick and glass factories, flour mills, and powder mills and the Alton area thrived through the 19th and early 20th centuries. The industrial revolution allowed mass produced objects for the home and made obtaining a lavish household more attainable. Many grand houses and buildings sprung up in Alton between the end of the 19th century and the 1930’s- Victorian, Italianate, and federalist architecture dominating the designs of wealthy households.
Industrial magnates, insurance companies, doctors, politicians, and landowners wanted their wealth and influence to be reflected in their architecture and were willing to pay talented architects- men like Theodore Link, Lucas and John Pfeiffenberger, Thomas Walsh, Barnett, Haynes, and Barnett, and Henry Richardson- to design and build glorious buildings made to last. Victorian homes spared no expense in their design- full of extravagant details and ornate layers- the homes are considered the opposite of the more down-to-earth and practical Arts and Crafts Movement which produced the Craftsman Style.
There are 15 historically recognized buildings in the Christian Hill District. Perched on the bluffs of the Mississippi, Christian Hill was developed from the 1830’s to 1910 and contains over 250 buildings. Most homes are Victorian, with the occasional Federal Style. Christian Hill is home to Riverview Park with its steep steps, sunken garden, and Victorian bandstand. The climb up State Street is reminiscent of the streets of San Francisco- West Seventh Street is a contender for one of the steepest streets in America. The Post House, built in 1838, the Women’s Club, built in 1910-11, and the State Penitentiary Wall, built in 1833, are all on the National Register of Historic Places. The Jennie B. Hayner Memorial Library rests at the bottom of Christian Hill and was built by the same Theodore Link who designed St. Louis’ Union Station. Other important historic sites on Christian Hill include the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and the remnant wall of a confederate Civil War prison.
Go on the self-guided Historic Alton Driving Tour to see this historic district and more!