Middletown 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.
The Middletown District, aptly named and centered in Alton's heart, has more than 650 buildings and was once a great center of wealth in Alton’s past. Henry and East 12th Street feature many of the larger and more elaborate homes. Brick sidewalks, made with bricks created in Alton, and extravagant architectural styles connect with a beautiful park and Victorian playhouse and an area known as Insuranceville- home of many insurance and banking financiers. There are seven locations in Middletown on the National Register of Historic Places: The Stratford Hotel, Lyman Trumbull House, The Haskell Playhouse, Bruch-Guertler House, The McPike Mansion, Union Street Brewery/Yakel House, and the Alton National Cemetery. Views of the river and well-tended gardens make Middletown perfect for walking and biking exploration- though the brick sidewalks and roads can be a bit bumpy on a bicycle!
Go on the Historic Alton Driving Tour to see this district and more!